alexandraerin: (Default)
I went back and forth on this many times during the design process. The appeal of the idea is pretty strong for me, and the advantages in regard to my general design goals (deep character customization both during character creation and advancement) are pretty clear, but I also worried about adding another layer of complexity to the game with even the simplest characters having too many special abilities from the get-go and giving players analysis paralysis by giving them too many options, and I was also concerned that I was simply recreating A Wilder World in a different format.

However, in the end, I decided the pros outweighed the cons. Adventure Song uses a dual or hybrid class system.

By this I mean that you select two character classes at level one. Unlike 3E/5E, where your character's overall level is the same as the sum of all your individual class levels, in Adventure Song, you'll have twice as many class levels as character levels.

The logic behind this comes from the idea of having each character class being a fairly pure core idea or high concept behind it. Fighters fight well, archers are the masters of ranged combat, rangers have the most acute senses. To make a classic D&D ranger, you'd combine ranger with archer and/or fighter.

I've gone back and forth on this, as I said. The thing that convinced me to go with it was the realization that the game was actually more complicated without it. Without it, the ranger would either be incomplete as a class, or would have to imperfectly duplicate some of what the archer or fighter did. In order to make the ranger's combat abilities not redundant with the archer or fighter, I'd have to leave holes in what should be some of the broadest, most generalized character concepts. And it would be impossible to make a character with the ranger's sensory and survival abilities without also having the tacked-on fighting abilities.

I also found myself creating three to five branching sub-classes for each character class, so you could tailor your ranger more towards ranged or melee combat, or tailor your cleric more towards being a holy warrior or a healer or a divine spellcaster, and so on. This coupled with a series of "meta class" choices (special abilities you gain based on your overall level, rather than your level in a particular class) was making the game rather crowded with moving pieces.

On the other hand, building the game around the assumption that even "single class" characters will actually choose and advance in two classes side-by-side lets me simplify, lets me strip out all extraneous abilities and skills from each class to focus more on the core concept. I don't need to build branching sub-classes in. I don't need to define the equivalent of feats that let you dip into classes without losing ground with your core class.

The difference between this and AWW's hybrid mash-up system is that Adventure Song is built around the idea that characters can fairly fluidly train into other classes. The ability to dip into other classes, even on a limited basis, simply eliminates a lot of the need for other character options that would occupy entirely new design spaces. If you can just take a level of wizard to get a useful beginner's level of magic, that's all it takes. If you can just take a level of fighter to give your character some credibility as a fighter, that's all it takes. There doesn't need to be a special build of cleric or ranger to add melee fighting to them. There doesn't need to be a special build of ranger to add druid magic.

There are some brakes on acquiring new classes, compared to 3E's almost totally at will multiclassing.

First, since each character level is equal to a new level in two different classes, you can't change both classes at once. That is, if you're a level 1 character who is dragonblood 1/sorcerer 1, you can't become dragonblood 1/sorcerer 1/ranger 1/rogue 1 at level 2. You'd have to advance either dragonblood or sorcerer.

Second, there's a limit to how often and how many times you can take a new class. Currently, I have a "first one is free" approach, but each subsequent new class takes the place of a later character advancement option, essentially being the equivalent of a 5E feat. This is to add an opportunity cost to balance out the static upfront benefits of being a member of a new class, because otherwise if your main class is wizard the dual track means that you could literally take a level of everything else without impeding your development as an arcane spellcaster.

There's also some resource-splitting. The number of limited use powers you gain is pegged to your character level, for instance. Each time you're slated to get one, you can pick one from any character class you belong to with the limit that you can't have more of them than you have levels in that class. So a character who jumps between classes often won't pick up any more turn undead/sneak attack/mighty blow type abilities than a character who doesn't.

And then there's the concept of edges. Edges represent the advantage that high experience characters have over low experience ones. Each time you reach a level where a new edge is gained, you have to make a choice between warrior, mystic, or expert edge. A warrior edge gives your skilled weapon attacks another die of damage. A mystic edge increases your magical power capacity. An expert edge increases your skill checks. Some class features also improve based on the number of edges you have of the right type. Because you have to choose which area to advance in, a character who is split among different character concepts will either lag behind a more dedicated one or can choose their character's focus.

For instance, a character who stays Archer/Ranger throughout their career will be more archer if they pick warrior edge every time and more ranger if they pick expert edge every time.

I've currently got six of D&D's recent core classes drafted as character class pairs:

Fighter: Fighter (frontline combat) and Veteran (survivability and generic adventuring skills)
Rogue: Rogue (sly combat trickster) and Thief (infiltration and criminal skills)
Ranger: Archer (ranged combat) and Ranger (superior senses and survival/exploration skills)
Cleric: Cleric (celestial channeling spells/servant of the gods) and Healer (supernatural healing powers)
Wizard: Wizard (arcane channeling spells) and Mystic Scholar (spell repertoire tied to a book)
Sorcerer: Sorcerer (innate arcane spells) and Dragonblood (physical and mystical power born of draconic heritage or empowerment)

Note that some of the character classes have either a more specific schtick or a dual-headed one. Expert classes (veteran, thief, ranger) are particularly likely to have a dual focus, because they tend to have an "adventure-portable specialty" and a "professional" one. The fact that a ranger can find their way across a trackless wilderness while feeding their allies and hiding all signs of their passage is an important part of what a ranger is, but it's not something that helps in the dismal dungeons of dank despair the way that spotting traps and noticing ambushes does.

While the classes above are designed to be paired together to replicate D&D classes, they can be used together in any combination. You can make a cleric/fighter to make more of the classic warrior priest. You can combine fighter and rogue to make more of a brute force rogue. You can make a fighter/thief to make a criminal who dispenses with subtlety in combat. You can combine mystic scholar and cleric (the mystic scholar's abilities aren't defined around one type of magic) to be a cleric with a wider repertoire of spells). You can combine ranger with rogue or fighter to make a ranger with a different fighting style than long-ranged combat. You can combine dragonblood and fighter to make a character who channels their draconic potential towards more physical ends. You can combine mystic scholar and ranger to make a cerebral character who operates on intellect and observation, or thief and ranger to make a detective.

The manual also explicitly points out that you can combine "veteran" with anything if you don't want to add a second set of complicated abilities or dilute your character concept beyond "adventuring ____________".

These twelve classes are meant to stand as a proof of concept and baseline testing version, but think about the combinations possible when the other recent and traditional D&D core classes are added in with their own combos. And then other specialties and sub-classes represented as a character class (Alchemist, Necromancer, et cetera), and more "generics" like veteran.

While it came at it from a different direction, the final result is looking to be something very much like a hybrid between A Wilder World and Dungeons & Dragons.
alexandraerin: (Default)
(Note: As in earlier projects, I'm still using "folk" rather than the not-quite-accurate "race" or "species" to describe "different varieties of sapient peoples inhabiting a world who have diverse and fantastic origins but are capable of interbreeding")

One of the main sticking points I run into in my fantasy game design projects is how to reconcile my belief that the game should feel fundamentally different if you're playing an elf or dwarf versus a human with my belief that characters should have some essential balance rather than having some be god mode and others hard mode.

One of the things 4E did in later books when peoples who were less obviously just differently shaped humans showed up was giving them powers they could take in place of a class power at the "utility" levels... so if you were a fey being or a shadow creature or a living vampire, you could develop further along those lines at the expense of developing your chosen class's usual repertoire. The core races also had feats that would develop their baseline abilities further, sometimes shading their character class... like divine-classed dragonborn getting breath that does radiant damage or heals allies, or extraplanar-heritaged rangers having their animal companions have plane-appropriate side abilities.

Both of these things use the same general idea: developing your people's talents takes the same space as developing other talents. I like this, because it allows fantastical folk to have fantastical abilities, but it keeps the entry level stuff less cluttered and it makes the game balance better.

So here's my simpler, more systematic take on it, taking advantage of a more 3E/5E multiclassing system than 4E had: folk classes.

I.e., there is an elf class, a dwarf class, et cetera.

Now, don't misunderstand. Unlike the flavors of Basic D&D where elf was a character class, there is still a separate character creation step where you choose to be human, elf, dwarf, et cetera. But having chosen a folk type (or at least, certain folk types... I'm not committing 100% to the idea that every folk will have a full level progression worth of distinguishing superpowers) allows you to take levels in a matching class.

Your basic choice of elf as a folk type gives you the baseline features of being an elf, the kinds of stuff you'd expect to get in non-4E versions of D&D. Taking the first level of the elf class gets you more like the baseline 4E version plus essentially a slight variation on the ranger/archer as your character class. Continuing to level up in that class is akin to focusing on elf-specific feats, powers, and paragon paths in favor of generic ones.

Now, here's a key thing: you're not locked in to taking your folk class at level 1. I'm strongly considering having a requirement that you have at least one level of it by some point before you're out of the single digit levels, so while it doesn't hamper your creativity in building a character of any folk out of the gate, you will eventually develop your folk abilities a little further if you grow in power and experience. This would also continue the "humans are more flexible/adaptable" theme, insofar as a level 10 elf would be 1 level behind a level 10 human in either soloclass specialization (unless the elf is specializing as an elf) or multiclass customization.

This requirement would not be quite as onerous as it sounds, even if I made it at least one level in every ten, which is what I'm actually thinking of doing, because the character progression includes the ability to "side class" at a few points, in place of taking another form of advancement. Side classing is like multiclassing except you take two class levels in different classes while your character level goes up 1. So the elf would be giving up some choice where a human could choose freely, either one class level choice or an equivalent opportunity.

The idea of leveled classes to represent more advanced special abilities for different folk also works well with my approach to blended folk characters. It's always been weird to me that D&D presents us with half-elves and in more recent editions half-orcs as core characters, but not other similar heritages. It's also weird the extent to which half-elves and half-orcs end up being mechanically treated as being completely different than either humans or elves/orcs.

So rather than having separate entries for "half-________" and the unspoken assumption that the other unspoken half is always human, I'm just conceiving the features of each folk as things that can be divided neatly in 2. You get a blend of both feature sets, and can choose the extra skills of either side, or half of each.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, I went through a phase in Adventure Song after I pulled back from the idea of 4E-style-powers-but-more-modular where I really took to heart the part of 4E's design process where they decided to reduce each class to a core concept and build up from it. In this phase, I thought of the game's chargen/advancement system as "Take A Level In Anything". I was basically envisioning each character class as being either a skill, or another spell level, or something like that.

Want to fight better? Take a level in fighter. Want to be sneakier? Take a level in rogue. Want magic? Take a level in wizard. D&D classes like ranger and druid would ultimately be represented by multiple classes. E.g., you'd take a level in druid to get druid magic, and then a level in wild shaper to get animal shapeshifting.

I ultimately backed off from that idea because it required either that every level of a class was More of the Same, or else a character who solo-classed would be markedly more powerful than one who took a dual track.

Which is really the central design problem of free-form multiclassing. If the tier rewards for sticking with one class for x levels are too good, people who multiclass early on will fall farther and farther behind. If each has too many front-loaded goodies, then characters who don't multiclass will fall behind. If classes vary between being more of the same each level, devastating at high levels, and having loads of goodies up front, then the whole thing is a mess. Making every level of every class More Of The Same is a solution, but it's not an interesting solution.

My interesting solution, for what it's worth, is having a character progression chart that's mostly independent of your character class and individaul levels. To use an analogy as an example, imagine 4E with 3E style multiclassing, but at level 11 and 21, you still pick a paragon path and epic destiny irrespective of whether you're level 11 or 21 in a single class. You still pick your feats at the same level, and you still get access to the new tiers of feats and new levels of powers.

But that's a sidenote. The point is: I took the idea of drilling the classes back to their core concepts to an extreme for a while, and this posed an interesting question about the ranger. I know what the core concept of ranger isn't: using two sword or a bow. I've written many rants about how silly that is as a unified character concept, because it isn't one.

But what is? The ranger almost seems like a built in multiclass. Richard Garriott in Ultima III put the ranger at the center of a Venn diagram of the classic four classes: as an agile warrior with druid magic, it was a fighter/thief/wizard/cleric. The idea of the ranger as a conceptual mash-up was a big part of the genesis of A Wilder World's character creation system.

If I had to reduce the ranger to a single concept -- and my design experiment demanded that I did -- it would be tempting to say "ranged combat", but I didn't want to do that. I'm okay with a definition of ranger that says they're archers, but I'm not okay with a definition of archers that says they're rangers. If there's a "take a level in archer" class, it should just be archers, divorced from the ranger's baggage. Because the ranger class has a lot of baggage, and it needs that baggage. It is its baggage.

So if you take a level in fighter to fight more and you take a level in wizard to magic more, what do you ____ more when you take a level in ranger?

Again, I'm not actually following such a narrow scope in my class design, but it's a useful first step. And one that I really wrestled with when it came to the ranger, and I never answered the question before I moved away from the Take A Level In Anything approach.

But tonight, after I finished writing for the night, it hit me, while I was specifically thinking about how the ranger is not the dedicated two-weapon fighter. Because a fighter who has two weapons is just a fighter with two weapons. And I thought, "The thing that separates a ranger from a fighter isn't that the ranger stabs the guy twice in the time the fighter stabs him once... it's that the ranger notices him before the fighter does."

So that's my high concept for ranger: you take a level in ranger to take a level in noticing.

The rogue might be more skilled with traps. The rogue will be better at disarming traps. As part of this skill, the rogue will likely be better at noticing traps than other characters, all other things being equal.

But the ranger notices the trap. The ranger notices the secret door. The ranger notices the ambush. The ranger finds the water, finds the tracks, finds the hidden goat trail over the mountain. Rangers hear, see, feel, smell, notice, sense.

This is the ranger's "adventure portable" skill set. That is, it's what they bring to the table, whether the table's in the deep forest or the crowded market or the underground lair or the eldritch other dimension. The ranger's background skills have to do with moving around and surviving in the wilderness. They're part of the class because when a character should be good at stuff, it's good to have it mechanically represented when it comes up, but you don't bring the person whose skills are "really good at surviving in a forest" to the Murder Mines of Murder Mountain.

In keeping with both the foreground abilities of keen ears/eagle eyes/sharp senses and the background abilities of being a hunter and scout, the ranger's dedicated combat-fu revolves around bows, with a more intuitive and careful style to stand out from the generic archer. That is, you take the archer class to be really good at archery generally, but the ranger's superior at locating and bringing down hidden and elusive foes.

Dual weapons? Druidic magic? Animal companion? The latter two things are present as options, what I call branches in Adventure Song (cf. sub-classes, but you have the option of going back and branching again rather than continuing to advance down the one... so you're not choosing between magic and a companion, you're choosing how much of each you want). If you want more of those things, you can explicitly multiclass to the classes that have them, just as you could take a few levels of archer to shore up your ranged combat.

Dual weapons is presented as an option external to any class, available to all... listed among the recommended starting options for rangers because I know people will look for it, but not restricted to or mechanically tied to rangers.

And this in a nutshell is the core of what I'm doing with Adventure Song. For every class, I start with the question "What does this class do that no one else does, or no one else does as well? If you're multiclassing and you take a level of this class, what are you taking a level in?" Some classes are simple, like the vanilla warriors (fighter and archer) and the core spellcasters. Taking a level in wizard is taking a level in wizard magic. Other classes essentially introduce their own subsystem that you're taking a level in, like the monk.

And then when I have that core, around that I build a foundation that will be recognizable to fantasy gamers -- players of D&D in particular -- as being ~*that class*~.

And then on that foundation, I build something that tries to encompass the kind of madcap motley that 4E allowed/encouraged/accidentally unleashed, but in a way that's more freeform and less paint by numbers.
alexandraerin: (Default)
...and I kept starting it and then realizing I'm not sure what to say about it. Especially since I haven't been really diligently liveblogging my progress on it, so I'm not sure what to say about it.

I started work on Adventure Song almost a year ago, shortly after I moved. I'd been really excited about my previous (and still kind of percolating) massive roleplaying game project, A Wilder World, in the months leading up to the move, but my early self playtests revealed that while the character creation system was exactly what I wanted it to be, the game system it was attached to really wasn't where it needed to be. And while I love, love, love a good character creation system... I wanted something more than a character trope mash-up minigame.

The point of Adventure Song was to be a smaller, more system-oriented (as opposed to character creation oriented) game I could use a learning project. To give myself more of a target, I decided that it would also be more like in D&D. Part of the point of AWW had been to avoid re-inventing the wheel by making a lemming-powered hovercart (metaphorically speaking). With Adventure Song, I wanted to try re-engineering the wheel. It was going to be my personal D&D Next.

Now, after a year of sporadic growth and those two weeks I spent in Florida and the days this week when I was on a semi-enforced internet sabbatical, I have something I'm excited about. I just don't know how to communicate what's exciting about it.

But I think I'll try making a post about my class design process, talking about rangers in particular, since the handling of rangers has always been kind of a... thing... for me.
alexandraerin: (Default)
There's a principle that says that if you can't explain something to a 5 year old, you don't really understand it yourself. I don't know if I think that's true or not, but it's certainly true that figuring out how to explain things to others can sharpen your understanding of them.

There's a useful corollary for people involved in tabletop game design: the harder it is to explain a rule, the more likely it is that you don't actually need it.

I have an attraction to rules that are neat in the sense of "what an interesting intellectual exercise in abstract simulation!" than neat in the sense of "what an orderly and tidy thing that fits together well!"

But when I decided to focus my resurged efforts on Adventure Song in the starter classes and the opening levels of gameplay, I made the decision to specifically focus on putting them together in a basic guide package aimed first at playtesting and then at standing as an entry level approach to the game, rather than having a plan to make such an entry level thing.

At first, when I came to things that were essential but too complex to fit the "entry level" theme, I tried to brainstorm simpler alternatives that could be put as a placeholder rule in the basic package and then used as an optional variant afterwards.

But as I did this, I often found that the "optional entry level" version of a rule was the better one. So then, whenever I found myself having a hard time explaining my ideas, I'd start changing the rule around until I came up with something that answered the need but could be explained more concisely, or was less cumbersome to the players.

In the process, my skill system went from one where players have 3-5 independent pools of points to spend and the points are all derived by dividing individual attributes by 5 into one where everyone has one pool of skill points that's created by adding two attributes together. The off-puttingness of arithmetic tends to be a blind spot for me, but I figure that adding two low two digit numbers is less cumbersome than dividing 3 to 5 of them.

The idea that I found so interesting that it necessitated having separate points for physical skills, mental skills, and social skills is still represented in the system. I just built it into the cost of individual skills rather than making each type of skill bought as its own separate (yet repetitive) step of character creation. Another way this improves upon the "separate pools" scheme is that characters can spend their points as they see fit instead of having their points divided between three categories.

The interesting idea is still represented, but players are less constricted and the game is lighter weight.

A similar simplification happened in the combat system. I'm using group initiative (as was once the standard in D&D), because I think individual initiative tends to undermine the importance of teamwork, but at one point I was envisioning each round of having two phases during which each side takes a turn, with some actions happening in the first phase, some being broken across the two, and some always happening during the second phase. Some actions it would depend on circumstances when they happened (like attacking after moving).

The basic idea was that wizard-type spells should be slower than regular attacks or sorcerer-type spells, but the execution was complicated and kept picking up new facets.

So now? No phases. Winners go, losers, go... and a rule that "slow actions" (like casting) don't happen until the end of the round, with initiative winners first and then losers. Something like that I can explain in one sentence, and if the speed of actions don't change by circumstances, the only people who need to pay attention to this rule are the people who are going to be casting every round.

Other things that have been trimmed include a proliferation of character pieces that stack together independently of character class, the number of spell channels casters are expected to juggle, and the types and number of character resources the game uses for special abilities.
alexandraerin: (Default)
...which is that as much as I loathe the "everything is optimal and nothing hurts" school of power game theory, I've spent enough time around those types of gamers that I've subconsciously internalized a lot of their thinking about things.

One of the things I have striven for in my game design for both AWW and Adventure Song is to present players with interesting choices about what to put where, and how specialized they want to be. But after calibrating so much of the game around the deep end of the stat pool, I always seem to end up overcompensating on the side of "make sure they have enough points".

For instance, after having almost reflexively calculated the sweet spot for the intersection of dexterity and strength given the armor system I'm using in Adventure Song, I ended up designing the attribute allocation system around making sure every character hits their class's sweet spot... perfect defense for everyone at level 1, with no room to grow outside of magic.

I've ended up scrapping that attribute allocation system in favor of one that is radical by my standards, though fairly conservative: distribute 60 points among the 6 attributes (using the old stand-bys), minimum 5 and maximum 14, then apply bonuses (with humans getting 5 points to spend anywhere, as long as nothing's above 18.) Yes, I'm starting with the idea that the human baseline should mean something. I still subscribe to the idea that a heroic adventurer should be larger than life from level 1, but that's what the 5 bonus points are for. My original scheme was 70 points and then +5, which is pretty firmly in Lake Wobegon territory (you know, where the halflings are strong, the dwarves are good-looking, and all the player characters are above average).

And as I write this, I realize that one of my qualms in nerfing the attributes to be based on the idea of average as... average... is that I've written into the game a very generous initial armor listing for each class that was also based around hitting that sweet spot. I did it because under the pricing scheme I'm using, metal armor is prohibitively expensive for starting characters. But as long as every character class either gets free armor or is optimized to have similar miss rates without it, those numbers are really just numbers. I honestly didn't intend for the best armor to be in player hands at level 1, but it fell into a blind spot.

So clearly I have some more adjustments to make here, in myself and the game.

After playing around with the 60+5 attribute system, I think I'm going to stick with it. I came up with a suggested quick matrix for humans that goes 15, 13, 11, 10, 9, and 7. It's the kind of numbers that look like something you might get from a random number generator, but you've got three attributes that are above average and two below, so things are stacked in your favor. Half your attributes are about average... everything but your freakish 15 clusters perfectly around average, in fact. There's going to be one area where your character is great but with room to grow, and one area where someone else should take point.

(I should also probably point out that my check system is 1d20 + attribute rather than 1d20 + a derived mod, so the difference between 15 and 10 isn't a 10 percentage point increase in success rate, it's a 25 percentage point increase in success rate.)
alexandraerin: (Default)
I've heard people saying that 5E completely scrapped everything that 4E did, and when I read the basic guide and then the PHB, I really couldn't believe that this was the general impression. Yeah, the presentation is more old school, but they've incorporated so much of 4E's overall sensibilities and ideas.

And the other day, I think I hit upon the word that sums up the real big difference between 4E and 5E, and I think it's the word that is the substance at the heart of a lot of the grumbling about 4E being "video gamey" or "non-immersive".

The word is interface.

4E, in its quest to standardize information and make sure you always had your options at your fingerprints, created a much more obvious, visible, and tangible interface between the players and their characters, between the players and the world.

When I talk about this, I'm not talking about the computerization of the game. Or even the physical props like cards and tokens that they were pushing. I'm talking about the system itself, and the assumptions it made about how the players would interact with the game.

And it was meant to simplify things, but it was often confusing. Because players didn't just need to understand the game, they needed to understand the interface. They need to internalize what the colors on the colorful cards/stat blocks mean, what the things encoded in the keywords mean, et cetera.

And the interface has always been there... dice and character sheets and sometimes maps and sometimes maps and minis, use of game-specific or hobby-specific standardized notations, et cetera.

At times it's been klunkier and more cumbersome than others (looking at you, 2nd Edition AD&D), but it's always had a relatively low profile. Then 4E came along and made the interface a huge part of the game.

And it worked for me. It worked for a lot of people. I had the mental connection that the interface was not the game, and the interface didn't get in the way of the game for me. But in retrospect and when I compare it to 5E, I can see how the interface had the ability to distract from the game, to slow the game, to slow the learning process for people who weren't getting the interface.

While there's a lot to be said about the way 5E is written towards newbies versus the way that 4E was presented (essentially, like a puzzle with no edge pieces... if you don't already know what the picture is supposed to be, how would you even know where to start?), I think that shifting the focus back away from the interface made a big difference in making this newbie-friendliness possible.

It's something to keep in mind with my own game design experiments. I spent a lot of time emulating the interface of 4E because I saw it as an integral part of the ideas it supported. I was already re-examining that assumption before I gave 5E a proper hearing, but now I think it can be completely laid to rest.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I'm pretty fond of character progression systems that are based on achieving goals rather than amassing points, especially when the most concrete and objective way the system presents to get those points is to defeat (which is inevitably read as "kill") opponents. This is not a new thing; I've long preferred it, and even in point-based systems, I'm more likely to fudge them to create a pleasing arc than anything else.

Increasingly, I've been fond of "at the GM's discretion, about every 2-5 adventures depending on magnitude" school of doing things, but one of the things that I've always wondered about is how to strike a balance between rapid enough advancement to satisfy those players who are eager to get into the deep end of the pool while not overwhelming players who are still learning how to play the game, never mind what all those fancy special abilities they got at level 1 mean.

But today it occurred to me that this is exactly what the GM's discretion should be used for. Advancement of the character's abilities should come when the players are ready. If you think about it, it makes sense, right? You have to master the abilities that you have before you're ready to improve them or take on new ones.

The very very very basic rule is this: at the end of an adventure--not just a session, but the completion of a quest or a goal--a player who is comfortable with what they're doing can request advancement, which the GM will in the usual course of things grant, given two fairly easy to satisfy conditions.

The first condition is that the player must actually understand the major parts of their character's abilities. If there's a class ability or side bonus they just plain don't use, that won't hold them back, but if a level 1 wizard still has to be reminded that they don't have enough spell channels every time they try to cast a new spell while sustaining another, they aren't ready for wizard level 2.

The second condition is that the player must be able to point to something that shows their mastery, which can be anything from "there was that cool thing I did with my wizard magic" to "hey, we just completed an important quest and I helped with my wizard magic". If nothing suitable has come up, the player can specify they are taking some down time to return to wizarding school, meet with their mentor, or just put in some serious practice, et cetera. The GM can turn this into a sort of "threshold test" by requiring them to duel a rival, solve some puzzle that taxes their class abilities, complete some task, etc., thereby satisfying the condition, but if that seems cumbersome, it can just be "A month passes. Welcome to level seven. What are your new spells?"

(A threshold quest would be the same basic idea, for the whole party.)

Advancement can be handled on a group or individual basis, with the caveat that no individual in the group should get more than 2 levels above the lowest level in the group. If someone is lagging behind, it then falls to the rest of the group to help that player to the point where they're ready to catch up.

Power game theorists reading this are probably thinking "FOOL! IF PLAYERS CAN REQUEST ADVANCEMENT AFTER ANY ADVENTURE AND THEY JUST HAVE TO POINT TO HAVING DONE THE THING THEY EXCEL AT EXCELLENTLY TO JUSTIFY IT, YOU'VE CREATED A SYSTEM WHERE 1 ADVENTURE EQUALS 1 EXPERIENCE LEVEL."

And you know? If that's how a group wants to roll, that's how the group wants to roll. I know plenty of people who use 1 adventure = 1 experience level verbatim as a house rule for every edition of D&D, either because they want to get to the epic level stuff quickly or because when you meet less than once a week that's the only way to see the higher levels. And I don't see a problem with that, if that's how the group wants to do it.

On the other hand, if one player wants to race to the top and the others aren't into or up for that... there is going to be some tension, and having rules that force compromise and discussion about the rate of advancement are probably one of the better ways to handle that, other than saying "find another group, LOL".

I'll probably present a very bare bones experience point system as an alternative just because some people would rather defer to a numeric system than leave these things up to individual judgment on both sides, but I think this has a lot of probabilities.
alexandraerin: (Default)
As previously suggested, I'm down to using the standard six (strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma) attributes.

My current scheme is that adventurers of most folk have 70 points to distribute among them with a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 18, with one disfavored attribute that costs 2 points for each point above 10 and has a maximum of 14, and then add +2 bonuses to 2. Humans have 75 points to distribute with a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 18, no bonus and no disfavored attribute. As much as I dislike the trope of "humans are average in every way, but flexible", it really aids a game system for it to have a "starter type" that doesn't have a lot of moving parts.

The threshold, nature, and even existence of a disfavored attribute are still up in the air. I might switch it to an incentive situation (an extra +1 to one of the bonus'd attributes if the character has a disfavored attribute of 8 or less, or maybe the bonuses shrink and disappear as the disfavored attribute goes up), or I might throw it out and go with an official position of "most elves have low constitution, but adventurers are outliers adn should not have been counted".

But in the absence of an adversarial GM who makes you wring every last point of advantage out of the game to survive (which the guide will discourage, though rules cannot actually prevent), there's no reason a gnomish fighter with a strength of 14 couldn't stand alongside a human fighter with a strength of 18 and a dwarf fighter with a strength of 20. They would have noticeable differences in effectiveness, but such is life.

I'm working on the assumption that every attribute should be useful for every character, so that there are plenty of organic reasons not to take 18 in three stats and dump the rest.

For instance, as previously discussed, your constitution, intelligence, and charisma determine your starting skill selections in the categories of physical, mental, and social, while wisdom gives you bonus selections. Constitution affects not just your HP total but HP recovery. Wisdom determines the frequency with which you gain new skills as you level. Dexterity determines your combat move. The assumption is that while a character with dexterity of 18 isn't necessarily twice as fleet of foot as someone with dexterity 9, coordination becomes essential when moving under combat conditions (hustling from place to place while having to keep your eyes moving all around the field).

The basic idea is that while a character with a low attribute won't be unplayable, there should be noticeable consequences... never a "well, I don't use that, so it doesn't matter if it's 5 or 8 or 10" situation. Even if you never make an active check using an attribute in your entire adventuring career, it will still have some impact on your character.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, I've been making these game design posts for the past couple weeks, mostly ruminating on how things might work in a game system very similar to D&D but not quite. It started as really truly random musings, but then I spent a day traveling to an airport, waiting around at an airport, and then flying on a plane between airports with very little to do and my brain kept turning things around and I realized how to relate my original post about an alternate spell system to Adventure Song, my D&D-successor game that I'd kind of stopped working on because it was getting too kludgy and much more mechanically complex than I'd wanted.

Fitting the two together kind of required taking a more traditional D&D approach to spells in place of the 4E-style "spells as just one example of a thing that can fill a slot all characters have for powers" model, but once I did that... a lot of the kludge fell away.

Embracing the simplicity of the traditional six attribute system over one that generalizes thematically linked things the way D&D's does also helped.

And of course, since my goal with Adventure Song is to make a game that is recognizably descended from D&D in a way that appeals to gamers who like or wanted to like or used to like D&D, using the same six attributes on more or less the same scale is probably a good idea.

During my spare downtime on this trip, I've been putting together a playtest version of the revised and simplified game. It only allows for human adventurers of the classic four core classes, though with some customization. And free multiclassing, but since there are only four classes to swap between and the alpha version is only going to go to level 4 initially, that's not much of a sell.

This is the proof-of-concept build, intended to make sure that the rules make sense and are playable. Usually when I work on something like this I get distracted by spinning out ideas that should come after that solid foundation has been laid and tested (other classes, higher level rules and content, et cetera), but I've been keeping a pretty strict focus on what you might call "the core and the floor".

Even though it won't be as strongly in focus for the initial test version, I'm excited by the multiclass scheme I've come up with, which is essentially the 3E "take a level in anything" approach but with an inherent layer of protection against combinations that will either break your character or break the game.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, it's no secret that one of the game design tropes I hate is when all the combat numbers go up at a steady rate as you advance in level, especially coupled with the idea that you will always face "level appropriate" enemies within a very narrow window. This is what I call the Sisyphus progression: you keep going up levels, and your numbers keep getting bigger, but they mean nothing. If you were a good fighter at level 1, you're exactly the same good fighter at level 30. If your average hit/miss ratio is supposed to be the same through your entire career, why change the numbers at all?

But I've talked about this before. A lot.

My usual solution is to have character advancement come in other forms than serial escalation, but I've been thinking about ways to illustrate the difference between a level 1 fighter and a level 30 fighter in terms of raw prowess, and I think I've hit upon a solution that I like:

Escalating damage bonuses.

To me, doing more damage with a weapon is a much greater indicator of the kind of skill that comes through experience than hitting more often... or hitting more experienced foes just as often as you hit their less experienced cousins, as the case may be. This is especially true, given the usual abstraction and hand-waving behind hit points as a mechanic.

So take a game that's got a D&D-type attribute system and in particular a D&D 4E-type level progression, and just add a rule that says "add your level to damage with any weapons you are proficient in and any spells that inflict damage dice." Your basic hit chance against a given opponent is going to be determined by your Strength or Dexterity (depending on the type of weapon you favor) at level 1, and insofar as those attributes are largely static, your basic hit chance is going to largely static, as well. You can pump character resources as you advance into goosing it up a little, but within strict limits, particularly if your character started out optimized for Hit Moar and there's not much room to go up.

But player still see a tangible increase in their fighting ability with each level. At level 1, the wizard was doing 2-5 damage with a magic missile. At level 2, they're doing 3-6. At level 3, they're doing 4-7. It's still their "little gun", but it feels bigger.

And now the reason that level 1 characters can't realistically stand against epic level ones isn't that the hit ratios are too far apart, it's that the epic level characters can devastate lower level characters with their most basic attacks.

This still a fairly nebulous idea, but something I've been thinking about.
alexandraerin: (Default)
First, start with a skill system that's somewhat similar to D&D 4E's (where you're either "trained" or not in the generic skills, with training giving a flat yet hefty bonus), but combined with the weapon proficiency and much of the feat system; if the feat represents something that is learned or acquired through practice, it's a skill.

Next, divide skills into three categories: physical, mental, and social. These categories have less to do with any absolute divide of what attribute the skill taxes when you're performing it, but more with how it is best learned.

If learning the skill can be best accomplished by book learning and/or direct oral instruction, it's a mental skill. Skills relating to knowledge and theory are most likely to be mental skills. Written languages are mental skills.

If learning the skill pretty much requires you to be up and doing the mechanical actions of the skill, it's a physical skill. Weapon--including magician's implements like wands--proficiencies are physical skills, and so are things like picking locks and picking pockets, and even search skills. You might start by reading a manual and looking at diagrams, you might have a teacher telling you what to do, but you don't ~*know*~ the skill until you've performed it again and again and again.

If the skill is something you can pretty much only learn through direct interaction with other people, it's a social skill. The persuasion and intimidation skills are here, obviously, as are the ones for resisting intimidation, discerning lies, for gambling, et cetera.

Now, the categories don't have anything to do with what attribute the skill uses. Many social skills would be charisma-based, but some are more observational (wisdom) and some may use different attributes for different situations (gambling, which can require intelligence, wisdom, or dexterity, depending on what you're trying to do... count cards/calculate odds, determine if an opponent is bluffing or spot cheating, or palm cards or manipulate dice).

Instead, the categories tie the skills to attributes for purposes of how many selections you have at level 1. New adventurers get 1 mental skill selection for every full 6 points of intelligence, 1 physical skill selection for every 6 full points of constitution, and 1 social skill selection for every 6 full points of charisma.

The theory here is that characters with higher constitution would have been able to endure more physical training in their formative pre-adventuring years, just as characters with higher charisma would have been able to endure more socialization, and characters with higher intelligence would have been able to focus on more studying.

Because wisdom makes you a quicker learner regardless of the specific discipline involved, you can take your wisdom score and divide it up to add to your constitution, intelligence, and charisma for this purpose.

This means that the "spherical adventurer in a vacuum" (a character with exactly 10 points in every attribute) will have 1 physical skill selection, 1 mental skill selection, 1 social skill selection, and then the ability to either take 1 more skill of each type (2 points of wisdom to each attribute with 4 left over) or 2 more skills of one type (8 points of wisdom to 1 attribute with 2 left over).

It might seem like it would be hard for certain character types (like the standard rogue) to get all the skills that are expected of them, but here's the other thing: skill training, in this system, is "extra". Where in D&D 4E, a rogue is good at roguing because they begin with the same rogue skills that any rogue-like character or character with a spare feat slot can gain, in this system, training at picking locks would have to be an extra edge for any character that takes it, whether they're the standard lock-picking class or not. The thief classes would have built in abilities that make them good at thief stuff.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Maybe I should explain some of my thoughts behind the last two posts.

The idea is to create a system that represents a whole range of offensive and defensive abilities where any character with average or better physical stats can potentially act as a combatant, with meaningful variations in levels of effectiveness.

The dexterity vs. armor divide is meant to do what D&D 4E does of giving you multiple paths to the same basic status, but having a real difference between them, with armor also lowering damage, while restricting your mobility as represented by the lower maximum dexterity, and dexterity giving you a better dodge chance, which is a wrinkle I didn't address but gives you the potential to avoid one attack a round at a slight opportunity cost... armor is better for a character who's going to sit there and slug it out, while dexterity might be more useful for a character whose player is thinking more tactically and doing more than attacking the nearest enemy each round.

And the whole thing is meant to be more recognizably D&D-esque/familiar to D&D players than my previous system experiments, which is why it uses the D&D stats and stat ranges, including giving up on my old sticking point of separating strength and prowess into two stats.

As much as it bothers me on a fundamental level to have strength and fighting prowess inextricably linked, and manual dexterity and gross agility treated as the same quantity... in terms of adventuring character archetypes, it does make a lot of sense, and in terms of keeping things simple, having fewer attributes always works better than more.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I realized after posting that last post that the numbers in it might seem a bit wonky, in isolation. An "optimal" defensive attribute of 30 using the system described would give a character with maximum human ability of 18 only a 45% hit rate, and characters of mean human ability would only have a 5% hit rate.

However, achieving that optimal defense requires attributes that the average person does not require (very high dexterity or very high strength), as well as such resources as money and training if they're going the armor route. The average person wouldn't have the luxury of matching their dexterity and strength perfectly with the ideal armor.

The average combatant in the world would more often have a defense of 22 to 26, with 22 being the most common (your bog standard bandit having a dexterity of 10 and leather armor). A passive defense of 22 would mean a character with similarly average attributes would have a 45% hit rate, and a character at peak human would have an 85% hit rate.

Against a typical "warrior" enemy, with a defense of 26, the hit rate would be 15% for a character with average ability and for the character with peak human, 65%... right around 2/3rds, which is commonly thought of as the threshold for fun... and 75% for the character who is actually maxed out at 20.

All it takes is an attack attribute of 12 to be in the "hit more often than miss" category against the bog standard bandit type enemy. If we assume that weapon expertise gives a +2 to hit rolls (this is not set yet), then you can have average physical attributes and still hit 55% of the time against a typical normal opponent.

The peak defense of 30 is meant to be an extreme example, a character who is all but untouchable for all but the most talented opponents... not quite untouchable, but close enough that you'll want to consider dealing with them through other means than attrition. It would be possible to have a player character at that level of defense at level 1, though doing it through armor in particular would require significant investment of your character creation resources.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Start by assuming a game that uses a OD&D-like scale for attributes, with 18 being the upper bound on normal human ability and 20 being pretty close to a hard limit for a human-like being.

Hit rolls in this game would be a roll of 1d20 plus the entire attribute being used for the attack (strength for melee, dexterity for ranged, if using D&D stats), with the goal being to exceed a passive defense score that is equal to 10 plus the target's dexterity.

The function of armor would be to increase the base score by a bonus, ranging from +2 to +12 (increments of 2). However, each armor would include a dexterity cap that is inversely related to its protective value. +2 armor (the lightest) would give you a dexterity cap of 18. +4 armor would give you a dexterity cap of 16. +6 armor would give you a dexterity cap of 14. And so on, until +12 armor has a dexterity cap of 8. This means that when wearing the armor, your effective dexterity for all purposes would be no higher than the cap... including defense.

Now, because this is a cap and not an outright penalty, if your dexterity is already at the cap for an armor or lower, there is no drawback to wearing it. A dexterity 10 fighter can wear whatever metal armor is at the +10 level and have no drawbacks, at least in terms of dexterity. A dexterity 18 thief in the same metal armor would be as clumsy as the fighter is. The thief's optimal choice would be the lightest (+2) armor, giving them their full dexterity of 18 and the full value of the armor.

For any character, the optimal armor would be the one that gets their passive defense exactly to 30. Heavier armor wouldn't lower their passive defense, just lower their dexterity.

So why would a character focus on armor instead of just pumping points into dexterity for cheaper defense and all the benefits that dexterity brings? Because armor has another function, which is absorbing damage. Armor subtracts damage from hits, with each level of armor absorbing damage equal to half its defense bonus. So that +10 armor the fighter is wearing subtracts 5 points of damage from every hit.

Assuming D&D-style weapon damage but not assuming D&D-style damage bonuses (because this system avoids "ability mods" in favor of using the raw attributes), this would mean that half the armors completely price out the weakest weapons, which do 1d4 damage.

So let's assume that not every hit strikes the armor in such a way as to obviate damage. Some will hit an exposed limb or sink into a joint or other weak spot. How do we determine this? We use the high-low rule. Any weapon damage die that comes up as either the highest or lowest possible result gets through. So that 1d4 dagger? It's got a 50% chance of getting through even the toughest plate armor, and will either inflict minimal damage (barely nicked the person behind the plate) or maximum damage (drove that one home).

This means that weapons with small dice like daggers, maces, and warhammers will overcome armor more often, while weapons like swords, spears, and arrows are more vulnerable to them. Weapons that use two small or medium dice instead of one big one will also have an advantage in cracking armor.

Other wrinkles to this system: feat-like armor training could add +2 to the dexterity cap for the specified type of armor. Depending on whether armor training is seen as a necessity to use armor or as a bonus, the basic cap at each level might also be shifted down 2 points. Strength would also be a factor; each armor would have a minimum strength needed to wear it effectively, with the dexterity cap being cut in half if you fail to meet it. So the dexterity 18 thief, unless they also have a strength of 18, would be far clumsier in the plate armor than the fighter.
alexandraerin: (Default)
"Spells On" vs. "Spells Cast"

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of Vancian magic, and I'm only slightly more fond of magic point-based systems. At the end of the day, I think a wizard should still be a wizard... and I mean that literally, because in most D&Derived RPGs, the day ends when the wizard has cast enough spells to not be a wizard anymore until they take a nap, and I don't think that's how it should be.

But still, there has to be limitations, or else magic dominates everything else. In my designs for AWW I focus on limiting what magic can do. In Adventure Song, I tried for a more flexible variation on D&D 4E's at-will/encounter/daily system, though I fear I ended up with something too complicated for what it's trying to be.

Now I'm thinking about another aspect of Adventure Song's magic system, which is the idea of a limit of spells that can be sustained at a time.

Imagine a game with a set of spells divided into levels, much like D&D from the classic era through 3.5. Now imagine that instead of being able to cast a varying number of spells per day from each level, a caster could cast as many spells as they wanted, as long as the total number of levels of the spells they had "out" were no greater than their own level as a caster.

Instantaneous spells would count towards this total at the moment they were cast, which means if your level 1 wizard is hiding behind a shield spell, they have to drop it in order to cast a magic missile... or do anything else with magic, like rescuing someone with feather fall. If they're providing the party with magical light, they can't be shielding themselves. At level two, they gain the ability to multitask... for level one spells, since 1 + 1 = 2. Any shiny new level two spells they have demand their full concentration.

This approach could also simplify spell duration, with most spells simply being "Instant" or "Sustained"... after all, if you can cast Shield as many times as you have to, it doesn't much matter if it lasts for 10 minutes or 60 minutes. Giving it an expiration time could--depending on the casting mechanics--create situations where you must catch a spell right as it expires to get around it, but in order for that to really be viable, the durations would have to be short enough to make renewal tedious.

This approach in and of itself works just fine for spells that have no balance issues being "at-will". For a spell that creates a lasting change in the environment, or creates something of value, or directly circumvents obstacles, or eliminates the need for another skill set (spells that circumvent obstacles often fall into that category), there does need to be additional controls on usage.

D&D 4E did this with kind of mixed results by off-loading a lot of those spells into a different sub-system ("rituals") that require time and money. My experience--which may differ from other groups--is that most people ignored the ritual system unless and until they had enough money to do some of the rituals trivially. Still, it does offer a way forward. If there's a longer casting time on certain spells, that makes them more difficult to perform "in the field" and can offer a de facto limit on castings per day. After all, if you have a spell that literally creates a product that can be converted directly to money but requires an 8 hour ritual, it's not so much a "cheat" as it is a full-time job.

Spell Rarity

This assumes that the number of spells a Wizard knows are limited in some fashion, either there is a cost (in money and/or character resources) or they are gained as part of normal character advancement.

The basic scheme is to divide spells up in terms of rarity. Obviously power can be a determining factor here, but if spells are already divided up by level or otherwise ranked in magnitude, that's generally a separate thing. In terms of game balance, it should be impact rather than sheer power that is the biggest concern in setting rarity. In-universe, while it could be explained that some spells are old and rare and little-known, this description does not serve for a long-term balancing purpose, as it describes a condition that could be changed fairly easily once someone has a copy of it.

What works better to explain game systemic balance is something equally systemic in universe. Let's consider a three tier system. We could call them common, unusual, and rare, but let's be more specific.

How about: Free, Controlled, Forbidden?

Free would be "as in free speech, not as in free beer", as they say in the free software movement. These would be spells that the guilds and reputable masters of magic have no qualms about teaching to apprentices and aspiring mages. Low-level free spells would include things like create light, feather fall, levitate object. They can be put to illicit uses, but they are characterized by legitimate ones.

Controlled spells are spells that are materially dangerous. Combat spells would be the biggest category of controlled spells. You make sure your young magelings can sling a magic missile before you shove them out the door on the road to adventure, but you don't teach it to them before you know that they can handle the power and responsibility. There are also more likely to be laws against openly using them, as well as guild injunctions... it doesn't do to spook the muggles more than is strictly necessary.

Forbidden spells are spells that are hard to justify any use of to the powers that be, no matter how useful they might be to an adventurer. Spells that open locked doors, spells that control minds, spells that fundamentally violate privacy... now, these will not be spells that will necessarily register as "the most powerful" in terms of bang-for-the-buck, but experienced game theorists in the milieu of D&D might recognize them as the spells that are problematic for either intruding on other character class's roles ("thief spells") or short-circuiting adventures (charm spells, remote divination and teleportation for scry-and-die).

In terms of how this system would be implemented, perhaps the easiest way would be to assign a numerical value (1, 2, 3) to each category and make the "cost" (in whatever terms) of acquiring spells multiplied by the rarity level. In-game, wizards would have to be more circumspect about using spells of higher rarity levels... nobody would care about slinging magic missiles and lightning bolts out on the road, but using them in town would bring heat. And heaven help the Wizard who is caught teleporting inside or invisibly infiltrating the Duke's mansion. Even letting it become known that you know how to do those things would be dangerous.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, two things that have come up when I talk about AWW... and will probably come up again... are variations on "How does the equipment system factor into this?" and "What's the skill system like?"

The answer to both is that neither of those things really exist, not as separate parts of the game.

To back up a bit: when AWW first started percolating, you made your character by picking from a number of "Archetypes", which could be things that sounded like character classes or professions, but could also be personality traits.

"Coward" was one of my favorite ones. It sounds like a negative trait, right? But a heroic coward (or cowardly hero) often has keen survival instincts and the ability to overcome great obstacles when presented with a powerful motivation to retreat. So you'd mix and match four archetypes and end up with something like a Cowardly Braggart Shield Warrior.

The concept has undergone some evolutionary shifts along the way. Archetypes became "Traits" which became "Abilities" and now "Qualities", which is probably going to stick because it's broad but not generic ("traits" is something that might be useful to describe a character in non-technical terms, and "abilities" could be any part of a character).

But the basic idea is the same. You define your character in terms of four stand-out traits, four things that make them stand out from the crowd, even a crowd that has identical stats. Each of these major qualities (called Signature Qualities) has a name that is meant to be evocative and a description, but they also have discrete and concrete in-game effects. This isn't a supposedly narrativist "figure out how to exploit the personality trait/backstory" game.

There's some room for interpretation and negotiation compared to some game systems... for instance, "Cowardice" might include words to the effect that you have +2 to checks made to overcome an obstacle between you and safety, hide from or sneak away from peril, or to escape from harm's way. That's not a specific check or even a specific attribute, so there's a need for both player creativity and GM judgment there.

But it's not like the thing just says "You have a finely honed sense of self-preservation and are good at avoiding danger." and then leaves it to you to figure out what to do with it and then argue with the GM about what it does and doesn't mean.

Signature Qualities can be anything that sets your character apart from others. Minor Qualities are little customizations that let you fill in the gaps or tweak your character in a specific direction. For those who are wondering what this has to do with the lack of a separate skill system or equipment system, I'll repeat the key part: Signature Qualities can be anything that sets your character apart from others.

Have an unusually high level of skill in an area? That's a Signature Quality. Have a broad package of skills similar to what might have been "class abilities" in earlier editions of D&D? That's also a Signature Quality. Have a notable skill in a single area? Minor Quality.

Why package things like this?

First, it's open-ended. There doesn't have to be a skill list, and individual skills don't have to factor into the rules that everyone (or anyone) at the table has to know. If you have a "skill", it's on your character sheet. If not, it might as well not be part of the system.

Second, I'm not into numbers that scale up forever, whether because you constantly get points to improve or because improvement just happens. The range of starting stats for player characters ranges from noticeably impaired to the stuff legends will eventually be made of. Noticeably impaired shouldn't be able to train up to stuff of legend, much less having a situation where after 10 levels the noticeably impaired are automatically equal to where the stuff of legend was at level 1.

Three, having "skills" be handled with discrete packages allows me to make "being good at things" more interesting than +5 vs. +2.

I mean, let's say there's a tracking skill. And let's say it ranges from +1 to +8 based on how many points you have in it. What's the difference between +1 and +8? +8 is going to have better rolls. If there are going to be more effects than that, I need to have rules defined for tracking that outline what good things happen when you roll how much. This complicates the system in its core.

So instead I do this:

Special Skill: Tracking
  • You have a +2 to checks to locate signs of passage or habitation, and find, identify, or follow tracks, or determine the direction that a person or creature would have gone. By aiding or instructing an ally, you can give them a +1 to their own efforts to do so.


  • That's a Minor Quality. The aid/instruct clause is standard for "Special Skill" MQs. There are probably ones where it's more likely to come up than tracking... if you're the party's tracker and you're right there with them, why wouldn't you be tracking? But there's always the possibility that you blow your roll and someone else with less ability has a good roll, in which case it's good that your relative expertise still counts for something.

    As a side note, I'd like to point out that it doesn't specify what kind of checks. Most checks involved in tracking would be using Sight. But what if you're making a Knowledge Check to identify strange paw prints? What if there's no physical traces but you're making a Mind Check to determine where your quarry would most likely go? Somebody who's specifically developed the skill of tracking (as opposed to having such keen eyesight that the tiniest trail stands out like a blazing beacon) ought to have given some thought to these sorts of things, so the skill keeps thins broad and open.

    Side note aside, that's "tracking" done as a minor quality. It's broad enough to hopefully be useful on a regular enough basis, but it's nothing more dramatic than a +2 bonus to checks fitting a fairly specific theme. That raises the odds of success by thirty-three percent points. That's noticeable, right? That's appreciable.

    Okay, so here's the Signature Quality version:

    Expert Tracker
    • You have a +3 to checks to locate signs of passage or habitation, and find, identify, or follow tracks, or determine the direction that a person or creature would have gone. By aiding or instructing an ally, you can give them +2 to their own efforts to do so.
    • When you roll a 1 or 2 on your initial die roll for a check that has a bonus from the above ability, you can either re-roll it or change the die roll to a 3. If you re-roll, you must take the second result.
    • When you are successfully tracking a target, you begin to form a mental image of the subject of your tracking and can make observations about the subject as if they were physically present. You can ask the GM one question about the target's appearance, what they are carrying, their personality, or state of mind, plus one question for every point you beat the Target Number by. You may also ask about things that transpired at a scene where you've located tracks.
    • [Some minor combat bonuses for targets you've spent time tracking.]


    First item? Nothing more than a slightly advanced version of what you get with the Special Skill. Obvious question: do they stack? Yes, because this creates another tier of mastery without having to add resources or complexity to the game. And yes, the "aid/instruct" bonus also stacks. Expert advice is better.

    Second item? Protects you from bad dice rolls. Maybe +3 isn't dramatically better than +2 in terms of its upper range, but being able to eliminate the lowest rolls makes your skill more reliable. Isn't reliability something you expect in an expert? This is a fairly standard clause for an "Expert" Signature Quality.

    Third item? This is where it gets good. This is the point of having separately defined Signature Qualities instead of a skill system: they let you transcend numbers and rewrite the rules.

    Now, I could have rules for tracking that just include that - you roll high enough and you can do the Sherlock Holmes/Forensic Magician/Prince Humperdink thing.

    But that introduces more rules, and it lessens the difference between having a superhumanly high level of Sight and having a more modest level of it but specifically being a superhumanly good tracker.

    The fourth item... whenever possible, I try to include at least some situational combat bonuses in a Signature Quality. I didn't list the specific ones for Expert Tracker because I have a feeling that presenting them in a vacuum would just raise questions.

    Now, if everyone who has better than the +2 bonus from Special Skill had the Holmes/Humperdink thing it would be a boring old world, wouldn't it? Might as well have a skill system with two levels of skill: Pretty Good and Inhuman.

    Well, the reason this Signature Quality makes you so inhumanly good at tracking because that's its sole focus. You could also improve your tracking abilities by taking a Signature Quality like Hunter, which would be more like a package of Special Skills (+2 to tracking, +2 to knowledge of animals and their habits and habitations, +2 to use of camouflage and cover and stalking techniques, +2 to wilderness survival, etc.) and a different set of situational combat modifiers.

    Or Bounty Hunter, which would have the same tracking bonus as part of a different package of bonuses, and probably a greater focus on combat than either Expert Tracker or Hunter.

    Now, I should point out that Signature Qualities are meant to be part of the foundation of your character. You can acquire up to two more as your character advances, and some of them are graduated (they dole out increasing bonuses over a few levels) or specifically represent potential for growth (Potential For Anything gives you some minor generic pluck/staying alive bonuses, but is mainly a placeholder that can be replaced at any time with another SQ), but unless you front load your character with such maturing/potential-based SQs, the idea is that the groundwork of the hero you'll be is done when your adventuring career (or the part of it covered by the story) begins... when you have four SQs to begin with and can only add two more to that total, not everyone who starts out as even a great tracker is going to grow up to be an Expert Tracker. It all depends on how important that kind of ability is to your concept.

    You can make a character who starts out with a small amount of skill in an area and grows into an expert, if that's what you want. You can even make a character who starts out with an unusual knack and then grows into more of an expert. Or you can make a character whose skills are their thing, they are what they are, and then they grow in other ways, like by adding a different skill set or by mastering a magical weapon.

    I was going to talk about equipment, but it's pushing three in the morning so I'm going to end this post here and call it "Part I".
    alexandraerin: (Default)
    (Warning: System nerdery ahead. If you don't care about the nitty-gritty details of a game system beyond "Big numbers good", this post might bore you to tears. If you like to know the odds and see some of the thought that goes into things like how a game uses random numbers, though, this post might be for you.)

    The stat system for A Wilder World uses a dozen different attributes called Character Strengths (abbreviated as CS). They are Brawn, Endurance, Agility, Dexterity, Sight, Hearing, Mind, Knowledge, Persuasion, Dominance*, Deception, and Stealth.

    For starting characters, these attributes range from -2 to to 6. The number measures notable differences above or below the expected norm, so the "average" person will have 0 on everything. This doesn't mean that most people in the world would be ranked from -2 to 2 and thus average out to zero... if a character record sheet existed for the whole world, the most common score would be 0.

    The sort of people who feature as heroes of epic stories aren't average, of course, but even the "average" Player Character is likely to have some 0s on their sheet. Being a hero means you stand above the crowd, it doesn't mean you are great at everything.

    Character Strengths are relative and abstract. Brawn of +2 doesn't mean you can lift and carry 2x pounds, it means you are appreciably stronger than anyone with a Brawn of +1 or lower and appreciably less strong than anyone with a Brawn of +3 or higher.

    Figuring out if you can pick up a boulder and use it to wedge a narrow tunnel entrance shut isn't a matter of figuring out the weight of the boulder compared to your Brawn. If you make the necessary roll, it was light enough for you to move. You were strong enough to move it.

    What your score in a Character Strength does is it adds to the roll (of a single standard six-sided die) when you're making a check. Pick a lock? Dexterity Check. Roll die, add Dexterity. Break the lock or bash down the door? Brawn Check. Roll die, add Brawn. The target number for the check varies based on difficulty, but the "magic number" is 7... an ordinary obstacle will usually have a target number around 7.

    Let's use the example of a typical lock. An ordinary person, without any noticeable gift in the area of Brawn or Dexterity, can't walk up to a lock and blithely circumvent it. There is no chance. 1d6 + 0 = 6 at the most.

    Someone with a slight advantage in such an area (+1 CS) has a small but appreciable chance, 1 in 6. Someone with what we might consider to be seriously gifted (+3) has a 50/50 chance of being able to walk up to a lock door and break it open or spring the lock with a little effort. Someone with truly superhuman/legendary abilities (+6) can just walk up and twist the knob off or seemingly spring the lock with a touch, because they can't fail... 1d6+6 = 7 at the lowest.

    You can't re-roll a check, so if you fail the first time that means this lock or door or obstacle or whatever is beyond your ability to immediately overcome... but if time isn't pressing, you can add +1, +2, or +3 to the roll based on how long you are willing and able to spend on the task. So when time's not pressing, failing by 3 or less can also be read as "succeeded, eventually."

    If the average person doesn't care who hears them and there's no one around to see (no penalties for stealth) and has all the time in the world (maximum +3 to the check for taking extra time), that puts them in the 50/50 range for foiling the locked door, and the gifted person enters the same territory as the legendary one: automatic success, if they're free to take their time.

    You can see how people with different scores in a given Character Strength are playing on different levels from each other. A score of 6 allows you to instantly and automatically succeed on a task that would be difficult for a score of 0 to achieve even at length. The gap widens when you add in exceptional rolls, the "critical success" mechanic for A Wilder World. I'm not going to get into the nuts and bolts here, but they're more likely and more effective the higher your score is, with a dramatic upswing with each point above 3 you have in a CS.

    Basically, a CS of 1 to 3 is meant to represent the whole normal expected range of superior human ability, with 4 being the very rare gift that seems to transcend human limitations, 5 verging on magic, and 6 being the kind of thing that makes a certain kind of person say "Bull! There's just no way a human being could do that." and stop reading/watching (or not, but then complain the whole time about how unbelievable it is).

    You assign your CS by spending a pool of points during character creation. Scores from 1 to 3 cost points on a 1:1 basis. The cost goes up for scores of 4 or above. The number of points you have to spend and the exact way it escalates is pending some playing around on my part and playtesting, but I'm considering somewhere around 20 to 25 points and each point higher than 3 costs double.

    You can get extra points to spend elsewhere by taking Character Strengths negative, but there are strict limits on it: no score lower than -2, you can't have more than four negative points total, and the exchange rate for a very high score is unfavorable. So if you have a negative score somewhere, it's more likely to be because that fits your image of your character than because it helped you min/max.

    Magic and Wealth are two scores that will work a little bit differently than the main CSes, but come out of the same pool of points. Again, details pend experimentation, but Magic in particular will probably cost twice as much and be capped at 3... making competency in Magic more expensive and capping it off will help mitigate the need to pile disadvantages on it to make up for the fact that it can be used in place of just about everything.




    *Dominance might be renamed, if a more suitable name appears. It's the counterpart to Persuasion, the "hard sell" to Persuasion's "soft touch". Approaches that rely on intimidation, coercion, browbeating, raw invocations of authority, or sheer force of will use Dominance. The advantage of Dominance is that it can be used in situations where Persuasion is not applicable, like when dealing with enemies or people who don't trust you at all. The drawback is that it tends to leave people less kindly disposed to you, where successful Persuasion does the opposite.

    Unfortunately, most words we have for persuasiveness have a more positive connotation: charisma, charm, etc. I almost went with "Presence", as one can have a commanding presence or intimidating presence, but "Dominance" does a better job of conveying with a single word what this CS does.

    Update: The alternate name "Command" has been submitted and I'm seriously considering it as an alternative to Dominance.
    alexandraerin: (Default)
    THE GIANT IN THE HILLS

    This is a fairly brief, fairly rough draft of a typical one-off adventure for A Wilder World to show some of the philosophy behind adventure and creature design. This kind of adventure is meant to reflect the kind of problem/resolution plot you'd find in a single episode of an episodic fantasy series: group reaches town, town has problem, group solves problem.

    Depending on the group (and the optional elements used), this could be a very combat-heavy adventure, one that revolves around figuring out what's going on and how to make people happy while avoiding combat, or something that takes a middle path.

    The actual adventure write-up would include more numbers (Target Numbers for checks to notice things, convince people of things using different approaches, etc.) and some outlines for particular NPCs (for example: a village leader, a hothead, an advocate for calm)
    Cut for nerdery. )
    alexandraerin: (Default)
    In thinking about what A Wilder World is and what it isn't, I keep coming back to the identification of it as a "Rules Lite" system... an identification I've made myself at times, but one that I'm not entirely sure fits.

    Its rules are relatively light in that there aren't actually a lot of them. It very specifically and very deliberately doesn't include rules for arbitrating or resolving things that have nothing to do with adventuring.

    For instance, you never roll dice to see how much money you make at your second job because your first job is Adventure-Haver so the answer might be something like "Nothing worth worrying about. Hey, you found a chest of gold last Tuesday. Big chest, full of gold. The chest was bejeweled, too. You want to know how many horses you shod this week why? Let's say it was 3d4x2 copper coins' worth. How's that compare to your bejeweled chest of gold? It doesn't. That's why there's no space on your character sheet for how many copper coins you earned shoeing horses. And no d4s, come to think of it. Hey, isn't it time for another adventure?"

    If your adventures have nothing to do with chests of gold, of course, then you really don't care about the d4s of coppers. Of course, even if you're on the road for some grand purpose or plan it could be that part of the adventure is you being broke and having to do odd jobs to get the coins you need to pay the toll or whatever.

    In that case we still don't need to know how many d4s of coppers you get for doing a job, because we're dealing with a locked door/key-type problem: there is an obstacle and you either have the solution to unlocking it or you have to figure out a way around it. The amount of money you have is going to be Not Enough or Enough; the exact amount is as relevant as the material or size of a key that opens a locked door. It might add color to the world, but it's not important on a mechanical level.

    Similarly, there's nothing like sailing or nautical navigation rules because if the characters are supposed to get somewhere by ship then they're supposed to get somewhere by ship. If the ship is supposed to wreck and deposit them on the Island of Adventure or get sucked through a whirlpool to another world. This is story stuff. Maybe locating a ship and/or crew was an adventure goal in and of itself, but you should never have to roll dice to see if the thing that carries you to the next adventure is going to randomly kill everyone instead.

    If the adventure takes place on board a ship, then elements can be written into it that make use of character abilities. But if they aren't more interesting than "Everybody roll to see if you were washed overboard in the storm and died", don't bother.

    Spotting your quarry ship (or white whale) on the horizon? Okay, that's a Perception Check. How difficult is it? Hard enough to reward people for putting points in Perception, easy enough to be possible... it must be so, or what is the point of it all? If it's necessary that the ship be spotted sooner or later, the check is for "sooner" and some advantage will be gleaned for succeeding at it, obviously.

    So, yes, the rules are rather light, and the parts of the game that are governed by rules are handled using the same simple, broad rules wherever possible. But those rules, simple and broad as they are, are important. Once the adventure has started or the battle has joined... well, this is a pretty mechanically-driven game, honestly. I talk about the importance of story, and relegate things like character death to the pile labeled "story elements", but it's not a narrative-driven game in the way that games labeled as cooperative storytelling games are.

    To me, having solid rules is very important to making things within the game world predictable enough for players to make plans or come up with solutions to problems. Solid rules means that players can come up with stunts for their characters without checking with the GM every step of the way. Solid rules mean that you can look at your character sheet and translate everything on it into actual actions and capabilities.

    So the game has solid rules, they're just meant to be broad and flexible in what they cover, and to stay out of the way of the story.

    I guess it comes down to what I said on an earlier post about using rules as the skeleton for the game rather than the muscles and skin. It's not that the rules aren't important. They're just not everything.

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