Sunday, January 29, 2012

Gamma World: Death By Chocolate

Game Date: 1/28/2012
DM: Matt

The Party:
Chewy Sweatyhair (Rick): Empath/Entropic
Jerry Fungi (Bryan): Fungoid/Plastic
Pebble Bushyhead (Misty): Plant/Pyrokinetic

The Module:
This was a special session for Halloween.  Yeah, yeah, it's January, but we had a hard time getting everyone together.  This was a module that I designed.  The gimmick (I always have a gimmick) is that instead of using tokens or minis, it uses pieces of candy to represent the monsters.  Whatever you kill, you get to eat.  I wrote the module using a generic universe, so it was easy to convert it to Gamma World.  For those interested in running it themselves, I've posted the generic version of the module in this blog.  The Gamma World version of the module can be downloaded here.

The Characters:
Per the suggested rules, I had the players roll their characters randomly, from all three sources (the basic Gamma World set, Famine in Far-Go, and Legion of Gold).   Bryan was a Fungoid/Plastic, so he was basically a rubber mushroom.  Misty was a Plant/Pyrokinetic, so she was a burning bush (you know, there's a cream for that).  And Rick was an Empath/Entropic, so while he could feel your pain, he was also often the cause of it.

I packed a bunch of D&D and Star Wars minis so they'd have a variety to choose from.  I had a decent mini for Bryan's Fungoid - a D&D  Myconid Guard.  For Misty, we used a D&D Blackwoods Dryad (I don't seem to have a mini of a flaming plant, sorry).  Since neither of Rick's mutations really affected his appearance much, I told him he could look like whatever he wanted... so he picked Chewbacca.

A typical-looking party... for Gamma World.
The Session:
The first encounter was against a bunch of chocolate-covered zombie minions (Hershey's Kisses) on the factory floor.  At the end of the first round, a large chocolate golem (Reeses Cup) burst out of one of the vats and joined the battle.  They PCs out the minions pretty quickly, after which defeating the golem wasn't that hard.

The second fight was against four Fruit Imps (Starburst) in the break room.  Jerry developed a temporary flight mutation, which he used effectively.  Of course, the enemies could fly as well, so it's not like he could just hang back and blast them from safety, but it still turned out to be a useful ability. 

I ran the third encounter a little different than in the original module.  The storage/shipping room now contained only one monster, a large golem (Reeses Cup).  When he was defeated, he split into three smaller golems (Reeses Minis).  During the battle, Chewy used an Omega Tech item which put all three Lesser Choclans to sleep... and put himself to sleep as well.  This made wrapping up the battle fairly easy, even if it did backfire on Chewy a bit.

In the final battle, I used a large plastic Hershey's Kiss to represent the Demon Boss.  He was joined in battle by two more chocolate zombies and two more lesser golems.  Pebble had acquired an Alpha Mutation which allowed her to fly, and a successful overcharge even let her hover.  So she stayed above the enemies' heads firing ranged attacks at them.  Early in the battle, Chewy tried to overcharge a power and ended up stunning himself.  It was save ends, but he failed to save about seven times in a row, making him miss most of the encounter.  But the boss had problems of his own.  His only ranged attack was an encounter power, and the PCs managed to stay where he couldn't reach them in melee.

The candy gimmick was a big hit with the players.  I hadn't DMed in a good while, so it was hard getting back into the swing of it.  Sometime around the second encounter it looked like the enemies were doing too much damage against a three-person, level 1 party.  So I nerfed a few of the monsters on the fly, mostly by "forgetting" to use certain powers.

This was my first time running a Gamma World session, and it was a lot of fun.  However, the Alpha Mutations and Omega Tech cards make it a lot harder to predict how combats are going to turn out.  A perfectly balanced encounter can suddenly become a breeze when a player draws the right card, or it can become a nightmare when that same player fails an overcharge attempt.  But that's part of what makes it awesome.


When Chocolate-Covered Zombies Attack

Product shot!

Fruit Imps in the break room

Chewy gets put to sleep by his own Omega Tech

The final boss

Unlikely Heroes: Nightmare Carnival

Game Date: 1/28/2012
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Dalia Lockwood (Matt): Human Ardent
Derp DuDerp (Cliff): Half-Elf Bard
Keyanna (Chere): Half-Elf Sorcerer
Marrick (Greg): Dwarf Knight
Starr (Star): Eladrin Paladin
Teddi & Sid (Ted):  Dwarf Warlock & Homunculus Familiar

The Session:
We continued our enjoyable romp through the carnival.  Various members of the party competed in games like the egg toss, a sack race, a pie-eating contest, and even a maze where we had to take rings from gnomes wearing minotaur masks.  For every game we won, we were given some creepy-looking kewpie dolls.  Sometimes we won them just for participating - they carnival employees seemed quite happy to give these things away.  We gave some of the dolls to the various orphans we'd been entertaining, but we also kept some for ourselves.  These dolls had eyes that would follow us around the room.  We did arcana checks on them, and found that they were magical, but we couldn't discern the full nature of the enchantment.

At one point, Derp entered a tent and met a fortune teller.  She predicted that he would have his throat torn out by the end of the night.  She offered to sell him a magic collar to protect his neck, but he didn't have enough money on him.  He went to get the rest of the party, but they were skeptical.  Teddi entered the same tent to get his own reading, but she was gone.  

After taking a wrong turn in the maze, Dalia got separated from the rest of the party, and wound up outside the fair.  While outside, she saw a light off in the woods, and a friendly fox tried to get her to follow him.  Dalia was afraid to stay too far from the rest of the party, so she paid to re-enter the fair.

It was now dark, and the fairgrounds started the fireworks show.  Some of the party members started to see things differently.  Everything around them was covered by an illusion, and the true fair had a much darker nature.  The fireworks were really leeches falling from the sky, and the gnome employees were really goblins.

Still oblivious to the illusion, Dalia made her way back to the party.  Along the way, she saw someone offering free sleigh rides to children.  She finally met up with the party near the pie-eating tent, and everyone exchanged information.  Things were getting worse - Starr's face was starting to resemble that of a kewpie doll.  Immediately we started to get rid of our kewpie dolls.  There was a furnace nearby at the tent, but as we tried to burn the dolls we were accosted by a large pig-man.  We fought the pig-man (a fey creature called a Swineomancer) and some lumberjacks who now had pig faces (Craven).

We noticed that most of the crowds were not reacting to the fight.  Nor did they notice the strange changes to the fair.  After we beat the Swineomancer and burned the dolls, we also destroyed their meat-pie machine so they couldn't feed their evil food to any more carnival-goers. We headed back towards where Dalia had seen the sleigh.  We saw more nightmarish imagery - the ticket booth had the faces of fair-goers nailed to it, the lollypops they were handing out were really eyeballs on a stick, the fair tickets were really skinned fingers and tongues, Teddi and Dalia started to develop a case of kewpie-face... and yet most fair-goers couldn't see the world for what it really was.  Even we could see things either way depending on how we focused. 

The sleigh pulled up again, and the driver called for more children to come aboard.  We asked if we could ride.  The driver resisted at first, saying it was just for children, but we talked him into it.  He took us through the fair - we noticed a lot of cries of pain as we passed the mechanical trade show tent - and finally the sleigh left the carnival altogether and headed into the woods.  When it finally stopped, we fought a gaggle of gnomes. 

After the fight, we saw a light in the distance, like the one Dalia had seen earlier.  When it got close, we saw that it was a naked elven woman, who identified herself as the Fey Queen.  We asked if she was responsible for all the terrors we'd seen, but she denied it.  She said that while our foes were fey, they had been corrupted.  She wanted us to go back to the fair and defeat the source of the corruption.  We were to look for a large armored man with a stag-horned helmet, riding a beast... really, we can't miss him.

We prepared to head back to the carnival, and our first destination was to be the mechanical trade show tent.  That's where we ended the session. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Unlikely Heroes: Freaks & Geeks

Game Date: 1/21/2012
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Dalia Lockwood (Matt): Human Ardent
Derp DuDerp (Cliff): Half-Elf Bard
Keyanna (Chere): Half-Elf Sorcerer
Marrick (Greg): Dwarf Knight
Starr (Star): Eladrin Paladin
Teddi (Ted):  Dwarf Warlock

The Session:
Having left Teddi and Starr behind, the rest of us were on the road when we were stopped by three men riding dire wolves.  The leader introduced himself as Silas Kreed, and told us we would have to pay him to continue on this road.  Marrick responded with an offer that was part deal, part threat.  "We'll give you 10 gold to stand aside, otherwise we will kill at least one of you.  Even if the rest of you manage to defeat us, is it really worth one of you dying when you could get 10 gold instead?"  The bandits replied that they liked their chances, and the battle began.

The bandits rolled badly for the first couple of rounds, so we got an early advantage.  Nevertheless, it was a tough fight.  We faced both mounts and riders, and our party was incomplete. The bandits turned out to be werewolves, and they were hard hitters.  But we concentrated our fire on Silas until he was down, making the rest a little easier.  We used up all our healing powers and a few Dailies, but we survived.

After this, we decided that splitting the party had been a bad idea.  We turned around, picked up Teddi and Starr, and continued the trek.  In the town of Olfden, we bought horses, making our trip to Falcon's Hollow a bit faster.  Along the way, a few well-rolled heal checks cured Teddi and Dalia of the Moon Frenzy they'd picked up a couple of sessions ago.

Once we reached Falcon's Hollow, we caught up on local events.  Construction had begun on our tower, but it was slow going due to unseasonably cold weather.  We learned that our employee Ralla's former pimp had been harassing her.  Derp met with the sheriff and asked him about Silas Kreed and his relationship to Thuldrin Kreed; it turns out there were rumors that Thuldrin had a brother.  We learned that the mysterious murders (the ones that prompted us to get Jevra out of town) were still happening.  Also, Marrick tried on his ancestral armor for the first time, and heard the voices of his ancestors whispering in his ear.

The next morning it was snowing.  It was unusually early in the year for snowfall, but the town made the most of it and scheduled an ice carnival.  It sounded like fun (or a plot hook), so we all bought tickets.  We also paid the way in for some of the poor children who were begging nearby.  Once we were inside, we split up.  Dalia and Derp went to see the freakshow.  Marrick and Keyanna headed for the ale tent.  Teddi and Starr headed for what appeared to be a large windmill.

At the drinking tent, Marrick set out to sample every possible flavor of ale.  He drank a huge amount of liquor, while Keyanna quaffed more conservatively.  After a while, a drunk lumberjack bumped into Marrick and started insulting him.  It looked like a fight was inevitable until Keyanna calmed them down.

The windmill turned out to be the site of a large spin-the-wheel game.  The barker tried to get Teddi to play, telling him to "Come spin the wheel and prove your strength!"  But Marrick wouldn't bite.  Meanwhile, a man asked Starr to watch his son Justin, and show him a good time at the fair.  Being new to the party, she didn't recognize the man as Thuldrin Kreed.  However, Marrick could see them from the ale tent, and went over to let them know.

At the freakshow, Dalia and Derp saw a tap-dancing dog-faced girl.  Then they saw a fetus-like creature floating in a jar of yellow liquid.  The creature was alive and alert.  They also saw the "Man of 1000 Stiches" (a guy with a lot of battle scars), and "The Human Fish" (a guy who could breathe underwater). 

Teddi and Starr took Justin to the freakshow.  When they saw the fetus creature, Teddi broke the jar and grabbed the creature. He tried to simply walk away, but he was blocked off in all directions.  He headed backstage with his liberated friend.  Starr, Derp, and Dalia followed.

Meanwhile, Marrick and Keyanna checked out a noisy tent that turned out to be the Lumber Consortium's technology trade show.  They looked at a lot of mechanical devices used for cutting lumber.  As a Dwarf, Marrick was impressed by the craftsmanship.  While there, he saw a little girl get her dress caught in a machine.  He pulled her free, breaking the machine in the process.  The employees started to protest, but Marrick aced his Diplomacy roll and ended up having a friendly conversation with them.  He continued to talk shop with them while Keyanna took some of the beggar kids ice skating.

Back at the freakshow, Quinn (the carnival owner) demanded an explanation.  We offered to buy the creature's freedom, and with a high diplomacy roll we ended up paying 100 gold.  The freakshow resumed, and the next act was a musical number featuring two Grimlock Pinheads.  Derp pulled out his instrument and accompanied them.  We then saw a lady sword swallower, followed by a guy who got into a glass box filled with snakes and spiders.  The final act was a hunchbacked giant holding a large sack.  He kept asking audience members to look in his sack.  Teddi stuck stuck his hand in, and was bitten by something.  It turned out to be the giant's (really an Ettin) other head.

We started to walk around the carnival a little more and look at the other games, and decided it was a good time to end the session.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Being A Little Too Elf Conscious

Other people will have heated debates about healing surges and defender auras, but I'll probably enjoy the game regardless of the mechanics.  It's the odd little fluffy things that get me into a tizzy.  For example: In 3rd Edition D&D, Elves had a life span of "over 700 years".  In 4th Edition, their life span was shortened to "well over 200 years".  Okay, arguably, 700 years is "well over 200 years", but I don't think that's what they had in mind.  I'm guessing a 300 year old Elf would be considered venerable by 4e standards. 

I'm sure they felt they had some valid reasons for lowering Elven life spans.  For one thing, it takes some of the mystique out of entering a 500-year-old crypt if one of the party members can say, "Yeah, I was here when it was built.  It was nice!"  But what really bugs me is that they don't call attention to it anywhere, at least not that I've found.  I haven't came across an in-universe explanation for why the life spans shortened, it was just, "Here's the new rules.  Elves live to be about 200."  It's almost Orwellian, like they're saying, "Elves have always lived to be 200."

The 4e Forgotten Realms setting takes place about 100 years after 3rd Edition.  So at some point during the last 100 years, something happened (probably Spellplague-related) that cut Elf life spans by more than half.  Exactly how did this play out?  Since Elves used to live 700 years, I'm going to assume the Elf population had an average age of 350 at any given time.  That means well over half the world's Elf population suddenly dropped dead at one point, when their maximum life spans shortened to "over 200".  This is not the sort of event that would have gone by unnoticed.  This pointy-eared holocaust would should made the cover of every history scroll.  But it's not mentioned in the "10 Important Facts about the past 100 Years" section of the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide.

Of course, the life span of my own character isn't a big deal to me.  I've yet to be in a campaign that lasted long enough for aging to be a factor.  But it does matter during character creation.  In 3rd, they said that Elves mature very slowly, and that an Elf doesn't reach adulthood until about 100.  So whenever I would roll up an Elf character, I would generally make them 90-110 years old, just as my Human characters usually start at around 18-22.  But the 4e book says they mature at about the same rate as humans.  I refuse to believe that when the lifespans suddenly changed, that they also suddenly started maturing that much faster.  Reaching adulthood has great significance for people, with rites of passage and other cultural ramifications.  It's hard for me to imagine the Elves just suddenly rewrote that much of their cultural guidebooks when the change happened.  Of course, I'm sure a lot of younger Elves were delighted to learn they can drink vodka now. 

And what if I'm playing in a setting that takes place between 3e and 4e?  We don't know what year this big change took place.  Was it a sudden change, or gradual?  Not that you can "gradually" reduce a race's life span by 500 years, within a 100 year time span.  That doesn't even make sense.  When I'm creating my character's personality, I generally have an emotional age in mind, but I really want to know that race's equivalent before I write the number down on my character sheet.  So if I make an Elf in a campaign that takes place 50 years before 4e, what age do I pick for a young adult?

Anyway, that's the kind of thing that gets under my skin.  Welcome to my psychotic little world.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Unlikely Heroes: Getting Wood at the Inn

Game Date: 1/14/2012
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Dalia Lockwood (Matt): Human Ardent
Derp DuDerp (Cliff): Half-Elf Bard
Keyanna (Chere): Half-Elf Sorcerer
Marrick (Greg): Dwarf Knight
Starr (Star): Eladrin Paladin
Teddi of the Sculpy People (Ted):  Dwarf Warlock

The Session:
First off, check out Ted's homemade mini.  Sweet!

So, last session left off with us finding the second of five Druid items.  We thought about hanging around where we found the most recent artifact, in hopes of ambushing the rival adventuring party.  But with time being an issue and all, we decided to just start looking for the next item.  We followed the clues and wound up at a pond surrounded by high reeds.  We heard a rustling and started to check it out.  A hidden Wizard fired some spells at us.  Luckily he was alone, and the battle lasted less than a round.

After the fight, we heard a voice coming from the water.  The voice identified herself as "Nixanna".  We asked her if she'd seen our rivals.  She said that another group had arrived at the pond recently, but she'd scared them off.  The Wizard we fought was one of them, but Nixanna had bewitched him to be her guardian.  We asked her if she had the next item we were looking for, a vial of Royal Water.  She did, but she wasn't going to give it up for free.  She offered to trade for it, if we had any items that used water-related magic.  It turned out that a ring we'd found last session fit the bill, and we made the trade.  Nixanna then kissed Derp, granting him a boon.

We also asked if she knew where to find the Druid Willowroot, the owner of the items we've been looking for.  She told us about an inn nearby where he sometimes hangs out.  We headed there next.  The "Spirit of the Wood Inn" looked abandoned, and was overgrown with rich plant life.  We began searching inside, where it looked like there had been a large scuffle.  While examining a pile of debris, we were attacked by a Wood Beast.

Meanwhile, Marrick and Keyanna were still outside the inn, where they were attacked by the rival party.  It was a Goblin, a Ranger, and a Cleric.  Marrick nearly killed the Goblin in the first round, while ordering Keyanna to warn the rest of the party inside.  But of course Starr, Derp, Teddi, and Dalia had their own problems with the Wood Beast.

Merrick was overwhelmed, and was quickly brought down by his three opponents.  The indoor fighters weren't doing much better against the Wood Beast.  It was a heavy hitter with high defenses, and it took a lot of work to wear him down.  The fight inside gradually shifted towards the front doors.  While still outside, the rival Ranger started shooting at the Wood Beast as soon as he could see it.  He ordered the Cleric to assist him, but she was too angry at our party.  Still, it was nice to know that not all our enemies were on the same side.

Eventually the battle completely moved outside.  As soon as Dalia saw that Marrick was down, she healed him so he could rejoin the fray.  After the Wood Beast finally went down, the two parties continued to fight each other.  The Ranger was the last one standing.  We gave him a half-hearted chance to surrender, knowing he wouldn't take it, and we finished him off a few turns later.

From the Goblin's corpse we found a magic wand, one of the Druid items.  Then we searched the inn a bit more.  Teddi found a skeleton with a staff.  He used a "Speak With Dead" scroll to talk to the skeleton, and found out that it was Willowroot.  The staff was the final item we sought.  After an extended rest, we headed back for the small town where the Historian had sent us on this quest.

The Historian was delighted to see us (and our quest items), and he had the Sheriff clear our charges.  The Historian told us that he would need to study the items for about 6 or 7 weeks, and asked us if we would return the items to Willowroot when he was done.  We didn't bother telling him that Willowroot was dead... why make him worry?  Well, that and we plan to keep the items for ourselves. 

Not wanting to stick around in this crappy town for six weeks, we planned to head back home to check up on things.  We left Teddi and Starr behind, so they could stay close to the Historian.  The rest of us began the long walk back to Falcon's Hollow.  On the way, we were stopped by three men riding Dire Wolves.  The leader introduced himself as Silas Kreed.  He told us that the road ahead was closed, but he would open it for us if the price was right.  We ended the session on this cliffhanger.

Friday, January 13, 2012

If I Designed an RPG

Wizards of the Coast recently announced that they're going to start working on the next edition of D&D.  Already my head is buzzing with things I'd like to see.  I started writing this blog as a list of things I want out of 5e, but my mind sort of wandered off in another direction.  About a year ago I posted a blog on what I would consider "The Perfect Game", though some of my opinions have changed since then.  I thought I'd follow up on that post, and babble about the directions I would take if I were to design an RPG of my own.

Disclaimers: Few of the ideas in this blog are really original; I steal a little bit from here and a little bit from there.  With my limited experience with RPGs, even the ideas I think are original are probably old hat by now.  I'm not an expert on the math that goes into RPGs, so some of this might sound like a seven-year-old explaining how we could fix the economy by printing more money.  I'm usually more into story than fighting, so balance isn't going to be my priority.  While this is all stuff I'd like to see in an RPG, it's not necessarily stuff I actually want to see in Dungeons & Dragons.  Some of my ideas might contradict each other.  This is not a game I'm actually going to create, as I really don't have the time or talent to design an RPG from scratch.  Caution, this post may contain traces of nuts. Do not taunt Happy Fun Blog.

Well, anyway, that's enough caveat.  On with the brainstorming!

By my count, D&D 4e currently has 26 classes, with 115 builds for those classes.  I think this is totally unnecessary.  Instead of creating 115 builds for us, they should just give us the instructions for creating unlimited builds ourselves.  But of course, that would mean selling fewer books.

For my game, I don't think I'd actually name the classes, but instead have "packages" based on the combat roles: Defender, Striker, Controller, Leader.  I might break it up a little further, such as dividing "Leader" into "Buffer" and "Healer", or "Striker" into "Ranged Striker" and "Melee Striker".  I'd also have a "Versatile" package for those jack-of-all-trades types.  But I wouldn't give the classes actual names.  Let the players decide how to define themselves.

I don't want to make things so complicated as to require build points, but I would like at least some versatility in character creation.  Everyone picks a major package and a minor package at first level.  The major packages will define your combat role, contribute to your hit points, determine Weapon/Armor proficiencies, and grant class features.  The minor packages would give additional bonuses or features that either compliment the major package, or give the character unrelated skills to make him more versatile.  So the major package might include Sneak Attack or the ability to cast Arcane Spells, while the minor package might include First Strike or Ritual Casting.

My RPG would be all about the races.  Borrowing a core mechanic from Gamma World, all my races would be "half" races.  This means everyone would pick two races for their character.  Now, this does not mean everyone would be half-breeds.  Most characters would still end up being full-blooded, but from a mechanical standpoint a full-blood Dwarf would actually be "Half Dwarf, half Dwarf."

It would work a bit like D&D 4e's hybrid classes, in that you would pick some stuff from each race.  Each race would have two stat bonuses to chose from, two skill bonuses to choose from, two special abilities to choose from, two encounter powers to choose from, and so on.  For example:

Lets say you want to make a half Elf, half Dragonborn.  Suppose the elf gets a bonus to DEX or WIS, and the Dragonborn gets a bonus to STR or CHA.  You choose the Elf's DEX and the Dragonborn's CHA.  We'll say the Elf has a bonus to Stealth or Arcana, and the Dragonborn has a bonus to Athletics or Intimidate.  You pick the Elf's bonus to Stealth and the Dragonborn's bonus to Athletics.  Maybe you'll take the Elf's ability to shift in rough terrain, but not the Elf's ability to meditate instead of sleep.  Perhaps you take the Dragonborn's breath weapon, but not his Dragonfear power.

But if instead you decide to just make a full-blown Elf, then you don't have to make the tough choices.  Take both stat bonuses, both skill bonuses, both abilities, both encounter powers, and so on.  And that's what most people would do, if only to fit the fluff.  While any combination of races would be mechanically possible, the cross-breeding restrictions would come from the campaign settings.  Each setting guide would include a list of which races are most common, and which combinations are possible in that universe.  Even in homebrew settings, if a DM doesn't like the idea of a half-Goliath/half-Halfing, then he can provide a list of allowed combinations.  LFR would have a list of allowed race combinations for tournament play.  Even if your home game made you roll your race randomly, the list would still be something like 1-19 = full races, 20 = mixed race (roll again twice on chart).

So no, I'm not actually trying to encourage a lot of weird half-races.  I just want them to be easier to create when they're needed.  The point is that instructions for crossing every race would be mechanically possible right from the core rulebook, so you don't have to dig out a lot of splatbooks when the party's Gnome impregnates a Human NPC.  And if you want a really wacky one-shot, have everybody roll both halves randomly. 

But I'd go even further.  All sentient humanoid races in the game would be playable, right out of the Monster Manual.  So you wouldn't be limited to Halfling/Humans or Gnome/Elves; you could also play a Lizardfolk/Orc or a Goblin/Kobold, assuming your DM and the campaign setting allow it.  Granted, a lot of creatures in the monster manual aren't balanced for PC play, but I'd design the base "playable race" stats first, and then add "monster packages" to them to make them usable as enemies.  Kind of like how D&D 4e gives you instructions for designing your own monsters, but the Monster Manual is basically a collection of creatures made using those rules.

Anyway, I really want race to be an important part of defining your character.  Too many RPGs seem to focus on Class, as if someone's occupation defines everything they do in life.  I swear, most of my friends have no idea what I do for a living.  They don't call me "Matt the Banker", and I don't want my character to be simply known as "Dalia the Ardent".  Meanwhile, there's a lot of interesting fluff in each race's cultural background, stuff that seems to get forgotten once the dice start rolling.  So with that in mind, in my RPG I'd like as many features to come from race as they do from class.  It starts with each character having two encounter powers (one from each race if a mixed), but I'd like them to continue getting more features at future levels.  For example, at odd-numbered levels they'd get something from their race, and at even levels they'd get something from their class. 

Hit Points and Healing
This is a rough one for me.  I hate slow healing, so I can't go with the older versions of D&D.  Whether your campaign's about combat or exploration, I think it's important that characters be able to get back to it as soon as possible.  The idea of roleplaying six weeks of bed rest while your broken arm heals just isn't exciting to me.

On the other hand, healing shouldn't be too easy, either.  Gamma World allows you to get all your hit points back after a short rest, which fits the light-hearted, whimsical nature of the Gamma World universe.  But D&D is generally a more serious game, and players shouldn't have unrestricted access to free healing.

D&D 4e seems like a good compromise.  You can heal during short rests, but not forever.  Still, the "healing surge" system has always felt a little clunky to me.  The idea that healing spells and potions won't work at all if you're out of surges kind of irked me.  I understand why the system was necessary - if you can heal by resting, there needs to be some way to restrict you from having unlimited healing - but I'm still not a fan.

Dragon Age has an interesting solution.  It lets you regain some hit points from a short rest, but only once after each combat, so you can't just keep taking short rests until full.  You can also make heal checks on each other for a few hit points, after which the recipient can't benefit from heal checks again until after the next time he takes damage.  So it's got the easy healing, with restrictions, without having a complicated "surges" system.  But it's still not what I'd do.

Also, the (pre-Saga) Star Wars d20 RPG has a neat system involving Vitality/Wounds.  It's not exactly what I'm looking for, but I like the concept enough to steal from it a little.

Personally, I think I would separate hit points into two nearly equal numbers: Stamina and Health.  So if a character would normally 40 hit points, in my system she might have 18 Stamina and 22 Health.  Much like temporary hit points, damage would come off of Stamina first.  These are the hits that you manage to deflect, punches you just shrug off, scrapes that cause temporary pain but no damage, and blows that knock the wind out of you without actually harming you.  Once your Stamina is gone, that represents you having a harder time deflecting hits.  When you take the first hit that actually damages your Health, that's when you're considered Bloodied.  These are the attacks that actually break the skin: the cuts, bruises, burns, sprains, and sometimes even mental scars.

After battle, our hero takes a short rest, and gets all her Stamina back.  She does not, however, get any Health back.  She can get small amount of health back through an extended rest (say, 1 point per level plus her CON mod, but never less than 1 per night even if CON is her dump stat).  A successful heal check (once per day) can increase that number a little bit.  And of course there's always magical healing.  But even if she can't get healed, as long as she has at least one Health point, she can keep adventuring on Stamina alone.  Maybe it's not realistic for this fighter with broken bones and major lacerations to be battling on pep alone, but realism's relative in D&D.

So if you're good, you'll get through most fights without actually losing much Health.  Sure, you'll lose all your Stamina, but just a couple of Health points, and next battle you'll have all your Stamina back.  After about three battles, your Health might be low enough to actually cause you concern, and that's when you start thinking about finding a place to camp.

Now, an obvious problem: if magic still works the way it does in 4e, it's too easy to get Health back.  The party Cleric will just use both his Healing Words, rest 10 minutes to get them back, wash, rinse, repeat until the party is healed.  So if I used Encounter Powers in my game, I'd have to nix any that involve healing.  Instead, most Encounter Powers would just restore Stamina to keep characters standing during battle, but actual Health-restoring powers would be more along the lines of "x times per day".  I'd also have to keep Health potions on the rare side, with most stores selling Stamina potions instead.

Your maximum hit points would come from both race and class.  I'm thinking your race would give you Health (since it's innate durability), and your class would give you Stamina (since it gives you the training to avoid injury).

Maybe I play too many video games, but I like "magic points" (or mana) better than encounter powers or "x spells per level per day" systems.  But I also don't want characters to ever completely run out of spells.  So every magic user would have one basic "Magic Missile" type spell that requires no mana.  Or maybe it only costs 1 mana point, and magic users would regenerate 1 mana per round.  In any event, they'd never have to buy a crossbow like they did in older editions.

Of course, to be compatible with my Hit Point system (above), there would still be some spells that only work a certain number of times per day.  Perhaps Wizard-types would use a mana system, while Cleric-types would be on a "spells per day" system.

Rather than bog down the book with 1000 spells, I think I'd just list a few, along with instructions for designing your own.  For example, in a normal RPG book, the Druid and the Wizard might have a similar "burst 1 in 10" spell.  Why list it twice?  Sure, the Wizard's might have ongoing fire damage, and the the Druid's might create a zone of vines that hold you in place, but you could could choose the after-effect yourself while designing the spell.  Different after-effects would affect how much mana it costs to cast, and whether the spell is even castable at your level.  Same goes for damage dice, range, burst size, whether it affects all creatures or enemies-only, and so on.  You would design these spells each level as you learn them, and you would supply your own fluff.  Later I would release a splat book full of nothing but pre-designed spells, but it wouldn't be required reading.

I'm really undecided on this one.  I prefer fluff to crunch, and I favor simplicity.  I want someone to be able to roll up a character in five minutes, even if they've never played before.  So I don't really need the whole 10=0, 12=1, 14=2 thing.  I know existing players have been used to the system for years, but whenever I try explaining it to new players, their eyes glaze right over.  Some people get confused on when to use their full stat, and when to just use the mod.  Several 4e newbies have reported using their CON mod instead of their full CON when figuring up their starting hit points, with disastrous results.  Are both really necessary?  If I'm generally only going to use the Stat Modifier, then I'm happy just letting that be the stat.  So instead of having stats like 14, 17, 20, etc, my stats would be more like 2, 3, 5.  I think.

On the other hand, I like how some of D&D's stats are so easy to quantify.  Multiply your STR by 10, and you have the maximum pounds your character can lift.  Multiply your INT stat by 10, and it's roughly equivalent to real life IQ points (100 being average, most PCs being well above average).  And as I understand it, for games that use a d20, having most of the numbers in the game start at 10 helps with the math.  But do I even want to use a d20?  If I'm really going for simplicity, I might want to use a d6 system - everybody's got d6's in the house somewhere.  No, forget that, I really like 20-sided dice.

And on yet another hand, I'm not sure I even want body-related stats like that.  I wouldn't be totally against combining all your stats, skills, defenses, etc into one basic list.  So instead of STR, CON, etc, you'd have "Melee Fighting", "Magic Defense", and so on mixed in with skills like Athletics and Bluff.  ...nah, that's too messy.

And how do I want to arrive at these stats?  I'm rather partial to the Gamma World method - just assigning 18 to your primary stat, 16 to your secondary (20 if both are the same), and rolling the rest.  But I'd have to think on that for how to translate that into my system.  Note that rest of this blog post pretty much assumes I'm going with standard D&D stats.  But I'm not set on it.

I'd go the Gamma World route:  Instead of listing 1000 weapons, I'd just have a few weapon templates.  If you want to call your sword a katana or a club or even a stop sign, that's up to you.  But we only need one or two listings for each weapon die.  But once again, I'm probably losing money on potential book sales.

I like the feat system they used in some of the Star Wars games.  Rather than feats having other feats as prerequisites, each feat just has three levels.  So instead of having "Ambidexterity", "Two Weapon Fighting", and "Improved Two Weapon Fighting", you'd just have "Two Weapon Fighting" I, II, and III.

Powers / Special Attacks
While I appreciate the way D&D 4e finally gave fighters more things to do besides basic attacks, I really don't think each class needs 20 pages of powers.  Instead, I'd make a generic list of things all characters can do as they attack, such as push someone 1 square or knock them prone.  But some characters would be better at performing these than others (in other words, some will be DEX-based, others will be STR-based, etc).

If I did decide to go with a traditional skill list, I don't think I'd need a super-large list of specific skills on the character sheet.  I'd probably just give you bonuses based on your related stats, and a few blanks where you can write in specific talents.  I'd like the player to have some amount of leeway to come up with their own skill names, based on previous occupations or hobbies.  So what if the Player's Handbook doesn't list shoe repair as a skill?

Death and Dying
I'm not big on death in RPGs, but I know I'm in the minority there, so I'd have a couple of optional methods.  Personally I like the way they do it in the Final Fantasy video games - if a hero falls in battle, they are K.O.'d.  As long as one character outlives the final monster, then everyone else is brought up to 1 hit point after the fight.  They only die if the entire party is defeated.  And even then, only if the villain wants them dead.  Capturing them might take the plot in new interesting directions.

When I DM, and one of the characters dies, I typically ask the player, "Do you want him to be dead, and roll up a new character?  Or do you want me to find a way for him to live?"  I'm creative, so I can find ways for them to live, maybe even ways that will make them wish they had died.  A lot of times the player will actually pick death because it's more dramatic, and because they want to try a different class.  To me it's more about trying to make the most interesting story, than it is about trying to get the best die rolls.  If you want to make it more limited, you could reward players with "Get Out Of Death Free" cards for good roleplay.  Or you could offer to bring a character back if the player will write a short story about their experience in the afterlife, and why their god allowed them to return.  Because, you know, people love homework.

Anyway, since most people prefer a more hardcore game, I'm forced to consider more popular death systems.  I don't like 4e's "3 saving throw" system, it just leaves too much to random fate.  It means that no matter how tough you are, everyone will die within (on average) six rounds of hitting 0.  I think I'd prefer a bleeding system, where you lose some hit points per round until you die at negative bloodied value.  That way people with more hit points take longer to die, which makes sense to me.  Though I might not mind the "3 saving throw" idea if you get a bonus to that throw equal to your CON mod; that way people with higher CON are still harder to kill.

Pets, Familiars, and Mounts
4e has several independent systems for how to deal with animal companions, and not a one of them makes a damn bit of sense.  Depending on whether your animal is a Beast Companion, or a summon, or a familiar, or whatever, the animal has a different set of rules for its actions.  For example, a summoned Golden Lion allows has you spend your Minor actions to order it to use its Standard/Move/Minor actions.  A Beast Ranger's companion shares his Move actions, but not his Standard, and they can only attack simultaneously if a power allows them to do so.

In my RPG, if you have an animal companion, then you run it as a second character.  I know it's not fair that some people to get to run two characters.  I know it takes more time to go around the table.  But you know what else takes a lot of time?  Re-explaining 4e's animal companion system every frikkin time it's the Beast Ranger's turn (believe me, I've been there).  Sometimes it's better just to have simpler rules, even if they aren't 100% balanced.

Time Resources
I like 4e's Standard/Move/Minor.  One thing I would change, though:  In my RPG, drinking a potion is a minor action, period.  No "1 minor to draw, 1 minor to quaff."  No "I'll draw a potion on this turn, so I can drink it on my next turn."  I don't care if you keep it in your backpack, your boot, or your underwear.  When you say, "I drink a potion", then that's a minor.  If that's too much for your suspension of disbelief (and yet you have no problem believing in trolls), then we'll re-fluff it so they aren't in your backpack.  Maybe in my universe, potions are made in pill form, which people attach to their wristbands for easy popping.  But however the fluff describes it, it's a single minor action.

I'm not a fan.  The options for micro-management will be there for the groups that want it, but there will lots of "outs" for those who don't like that sort of thing.

In my system, money is weightless and denomination doesn't matter.  Coins are made out of some extremely light metal, and merchants have no qualms about making change for people.  Or maybe everybody is just issued a magic debit card at birth.  Maybe it's not even a "card" so much as your account is tied to a magical tattoo, so the DMs aren't tempted to target the party's treasure.  (No offense, DMs, and I know getting robbed is valid drama... but if you didn't want the party to have so much gold, maybe you shouldn't have placed that big treasure chest in that last dungeon.)

All characters will be issued a solar-rechargeable magic sunrod.  It is a minor action to activate, and clips to your clothing so you don't have to hold it.  As long as you keep it clipped to the outside of your clothing for a couple of hours each day, it will shine for 8 continuous hours in the dark.  However, some dungeons might be filled with magical darkness, limiting the sunrod's functionality.

If you have the skill to use a bow, then you have the skill to retrieve and repair your arrows after battle.  Ditto for bolts and sling bullets.  You also have the skill to make your own ammo from materials found in the forest.  This process does not need to be roleplayed or even mentioned, since it is an assumed hobby your character does during his downtime.  Any ranged weapon +1 or higher has unlimited magical ammo.

It is assumed that characters do odd jobs between actual quests, earning them enough money to break even on rent, food, and other necessities of life.  It is also assumed that all characters know how to live in the world they were born in.  That means they know how to find food when they can't buy it, either through hunting or foraging.  My campaign settings will be full of fruit-bearing trees and edible lichens.  Unless you're specifically in a storyline where starvation is supposed to be risk, eating simply doesn't need to be mentioned.

I love miniatures, and I always want to use them.  But I don't want the game to require them.  So all the bursts and blasts and other effects are going to have to be a little less complicated than they are in 4e.  But I have played 4e without miniatures, and while the action felt a little less precise, it still worked.  Granted, it was a low-combat campaign and we were playing simple classes.  My goal would be to make my RPG just simple enough to work well without minis, but most people would still use them.

Balance and Errata
A lot of RPGs use the "Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards" method:  Magic users suck at low levels, and rock at high levels.  Meanwhile, Fighters just progress steadily, and gradually become less interesting as time goes on.  D&D 4e made every possible effort to balance all the classes, attempting to make all of them equally useful (some critics say equally boring) at all levels.  They went on to release errata every five minutes, nerfing any possible advantage one class might have as soon as said advantage was discovered.

I'm all for some balance.  I don't want anyone to feel useless or fragile at any level.  But I don't want to obsess about it either.  If someone discovers a trick that makes their Striker do more damage, I'm going to accept the fact that "doing more damage" is a Striker's frikkin' job, and get on with my life.  (Unless, of course, the trick is so unbalancing that the game is no longer challenging... but that hasn't been the case for most of 4e's errata.)  Some people play for the story.  Balance and errata aren't an issue for them.  Other people pick a system apart looking for advantageous builds.  They're going to find a way to  build nuclear characters no matter how much errata you release.  I say, let the min/maxers have their fun.  Once they crack the system, they'll move on to something else, leaving this game for those who enjoy it for less munchkiny reasons.

Character Builder
There would definitely be a character builder.  This builder would be a available for multiple platforms, including phone apps.  The builder would not be free, as it would make buying the books obsolete.  However, you would get a download code for the builder when you buy the Player's Handbook.  When you buy other future splatbooks, you would get more download codes that update the builder with the content from that book.

Character Sheets
I want the character sheets to be relatively short.  My biggest problem with 4e's character sheets is that you have to keep going back and forth to different pages.  All your important stats are on the front page, but to use your powers (which you will, every turn) you have flip until you find the right power card page.  Plus, they waste some room by showing their math.  By this, I mean instead of just saying "AC: 20", it also shows the numbers that add up to AC (10+1/2 Level+Armor+Ability+Class+Feat+Enhancement+Misc).  It's good to have those numbers on hand in case there's a dispute, and it helps someone figure out the numbers initially, but there's no reason it needs to be hogging up space on the front page.

When I play 4e, I tend to make my own character "cheat sheets" on a spreadsheet.  These sheets have all my character's most important information on them: stats, skills, hit points, power summaries, and so on.  But not the math that got me there.  I still keep the full character sheet handy in case I need to see how I arrived at these numbers, but I rarely have to look at anything besides my one-page spreadsheet.  It's not easy to fit everything on one page, especially if the character has a lot of complicated spells.  And it gets harder and harder as the character gains levels.

Sample 4e Cheat Sheet (click to enlarge)
 So one reason I would want my RPG to be as simple as possible, is so that everything can be summarized on one page.  Remember, this is the 21st century - these sheets have to look good on an iPhone.

That's about all I can come up with for now.  I don't think this would be the perfect RPG by any means, and I don't think it would have universal appeal.  It's just a lot of ideas for a game I would be interested in playing.  While it's fun to speculate about what the next D&D will be like, the game described above probably ain't it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Unlikely Heroes: Curing Lycanthropy the Easy Way

Game Date: 1/7/2012
DM: Rusty

The Party:
Dalia Lockwood (Matt): Human Ardent
Durp the Oblivious (Cliff): Half-Elf Bard
Keyanna (Chere): Half-Elf Sorcerer
Marrick (Greg): Dwarf Knight
Starr (Star): Eladrin Paladin
Teddi the StirgeSlayer (Ted):  Dwarf Warlock

The Session:
Last session got interrupted mid-battle, so today we started right in the middle of the action.  We still faced one stirge (attached to Teddi's face), some vines (we thought we could just get away from them and be okay, but they turned out to be ambulatory), and Jevra (our teenage ward turned werewolf).  Things looked pretty bleak for a while, but we finally turned it around.  Teddi got sick of his face hugging foe, so he pulverized the stirge with a Daily power.  Then we concentrated on Jevra, and continued hacking away at her even after she was down, just to make sure she didn't regenerate.  Once we were all free to concentrate on the vines, it didn't take long to finish them off.

This would be a good time to say some kind words in memory of Jevra... but most of our party didn't really know her that well.  The characters who knew her best are all gone now, with Durp being the only long-term party member.  Being a bard, perhaps he could write a touching eulogy once we get back to town.  But for now, we're in a race to find some Druid artifacts before a rival party gets them.

Now that we weren't in danger, we could look around the area more thoroughly.  Last session Marrick found a breastplate.  A closer examination revealed it to be Astral Fire Armor, one of the five Druid items we were sent to find.  That still leaves us a wand, a vial, a staff, and a codex.  We did find a ring, and finally got to study the inscriptions on the stone monoliths.  The writings gave us clues as to where to look for the other artifacts. 

After looking at the inscriptions, we decided to head East.  We considered taking an extended rest before setting out, because we'd used a lot of Dailies, and some of our party members were low on surges.  But time was also an issue here, so we put it off for one more fight.  We marched East for a while, eventually picking up some tracks that might have been our rivals.  The tracks ended in some foliage near the mouth of a cave.  We entered the cave.

The cave split off in a couple of different directions.  As we began to discuss which way to explore first, Teddi wandered off.  Not the slightest bit concerned about his lack of a light source, our mad priest just felt his way along the walls until he entered a large, pitch black chamber.  There he was attacked by a mutant bear and three large bats.  The rest of the party heard the ruckus and came to his aid.

After the battle, we found a chest.  Inside was a wand-shaped depression.  Could it be the wand on our Druid list?  If so, where is it?  Did the rival party get here first and take it?  We took an extended rest in the cave, then headed back to the grove.  Following the clue from another inscription, we headed Southeast.

As we neared our destination, we heard a thumping sound.  Then we reached a large hollow tree.  High up on the tree, there was rod-like object attached to the tree by a rope.  The thumping sound came from the rod hitting the tree as it swayed in the breeze.  Teddie managed to break the rope with an Eldritch blast, but this attracted some enemies.  We now faced three stirges and a large beetle.

The beetle came from inside the tree, and Marrick made sure to keep him there.  Soon our party was split in two:  Our three melee fighters fought the beetle inside the tree, while our three ranged characters fought the stirges outside.  Once the fight was over, we investigated the object Teddi had knocked off the tree.  It was a large leg bone.  Inside the bone was a scroll containing three rituals.  This was the codex on our list.  Two down, three to go.

And that's where we ended the session.