Posts Tagged ‘papers & pencils’

So while I’m working on a couple of longer-term projects (discussing Pathfinder feats at-length; comparing D&D3.5 and Swords and Wizardry, demonstrating that the systems focus on different scopes; discussing healing in D&D, particularly in D&D 5) I wanted to point you over to a really cool idea from LS at Papers & Pencils.

He noted (as I did this weekend, breaking in my new Swords and Wizardry books) that the fist experience new players have of D&D is “”roll these dice, record the resulting sum. Repeat this task five more times, then assign one score to each of these six abilities, the functions of which you probably don’t fully understand yet,” and that’s a kind of sucky introduction to a Fantasy setting.  Instead he suggests describing the Races (dwarves are strong but clumbsy, elves are graceful but frail, gnomes are weak but charismatic) and then weighting attribute rolls by Race, with take-highest and take-lowest rolls replacing flat bonuses and penalties. I haven’t chewed on the numbers yet, but LS claims that 5-take-lowest averages a 7 and 5-take-highest averages a 14 (and 4-take-highst/lowest is probably about 8 and 12 respectively), so you get the benefit of the flat bonus but eliminate scores above 18 at level 1. And if nothing else, I think I really like that result.

So check out his post and then leave me your thoughts in the comments; I’ll probably make another post on this topic once I’ve had some time to look at the implications.

LS over at Paper and Pencils has been doing some great stuff at re-inspecting Pathfinder, much of which I’m still catching up on.  And seeing as last night was a “no sleep for daddy” night and this morning has been a “coffee weak as water” kind of morning, this probably isn’t the best time for me to try digging in to such a topic.  But I go where the spirit moves me!

Both LS and I agree that D&D/Pathfinder Crafting skills are pretty much useless as-written. We both think there should be a way to re-cast the crafting system so that it still works within the bounds of the Skill System (skill points, roll d20+bonuses against a DC to determine success or failure, etc). But LS and I are working off of a different set of assumptions; he wants to balance Crafting PC-to-PC (focusing on game balance and utility), and I’m interested in balancing PC-to-NPC (focusing on in-world modeling and meaning). I think LS and I had words over this difference of opinion before, but it’s mostly a matter of taste and interpretation.

LS draws up a table comparing a moderately-invested PC (we’ll call him Min) versus a heavily-invested PC (he’ll be Max), level for level. Min has a +2 attribute bonus, has the skill as a Class Skill (+3) and takes a point in the skill every level (+lvl); Max has a +5 in the attribute at level 1, adds to his attribute at every chance (+1 at 8 and 16), takes Skill Focus (+3 at Lvl 1, another +3 at Lvl 10), has the skill as a Class Skill (+3) and takes a point in the skill every level (+lvl). Right off the problem is clear, as Min has a score of 5+Lvl and Max has a score of 11+Lvl at Level 1, 12+Lvl at Level 8, 15+Lvl at Level 10, and 16+Lvl at Level 16. Max starts out essentially double Min’s effectiveness and has several hops in his progression where Min increases linearly. LS concludes that crafting can not be balanced, I conclude that we’re trying to balance the wrong thing.

Based on my assumptions, I think there are three characters to consider when determining how we should treat the skill: the Amature NPC (Al), the Professional NPC (Paul), and the Master NPC (Matt). Like most people in the world, they are all level 1 and do not advance. Al has an average attribute (+0) and no formal training (not a class skill), just what he’s able to pick up by doing (+1 skill point). Paul is talented (+1 attribute) and has been trained (+3 class skill) in addition to applying the skill (+1 skill point).  Matt is truly gifted (+2 attribute) and has been not only trained (+3) but focused on his craft (+3 Skill Focus) in addition to applying the skill (+1).  So we have three flat values that most of the world will conform to: +1 for Al, +4 for Paul, and +9 for Matt. With an assiatant (+2 help) and taking their time (Take 10), they can respectively hit DC 12, DC 16, and DC 21. Reaching beyond their skill (ie, rolling the die) gives them the chance to hit DC 22, DC 26, and DC 31, but risks ruining the whole effort.

Player characters will start out as an amature, professional, or master – possibly with some variation and potentially with much more raw talent (if the GM allows high ability scores). But unlike most of the rest of the world, PCs perform deeds that gain them Experience and raise their level, gradually becoming more than mundane. Higher level NPCs may exist, but just like PCs they are suitably Heroic, Mythic, Legendary, or God-like as well.

Masterwork items should have a DC of 20, so that a talented Master can create them reliably. The entirety of mundane crafting should be achievable within DC 30 or less, noting that these crafts are beyond the normal ability of a Master. Beyond that (and I might even say beyond DC 25) we enter the realm of crafting things that are more than mundane.

LS tosses out this notion, concluding from his treatment of Min and Max that there’s no good way to make the skill useful for Min without being broken by Max if item quality alone determines the DC. But this is because he’s comparing players to players in a competative sense, where as I’m comparing players to the world being modeled with the understanding (or even expectation) that players will quickly outshine all others. (That’s part of the point, isn’t it?) I also think that there’s a component of Skill bonuses that LS is neglecting – yes, it determines maximum range of the feats you’re able to pull off, but it also determines the complications that you can cope with and still be successful. Crafting an item without proper tools, in an unsuitable environment, or clandestinely (such as creating weapons in a jail cell without the guards catching on) might heap on a bunch of penalties, andit would take a suitably talented and skill individual to pull it off.

As-written the Crafting skill uses time, cost, and DC in an interconnected way that leads to non-intuitive results and/or absurd crafting times.  I’d like to address that, probably just by de-coupling the three of them.  But I’ll have to say that for another time.

So I’ve been trying (and mostly failing) to prepare for a quick little hex-crawl game to run with my wife.  A big problem for me is, apparently, “information architecture” or “how do I know what I know?”  I thought I’d use some space here to talk about what my plans are, structurally.

I’m planning on using a six mile hex as the basis of my map, and I’ll plot geography based on Welsh Piper’s guidelines (though it’s a bit of a kludge since I’m not using their Atlas Hex, template for now).  The bulk of my hexcrawl system I’m going to be taking from The Alexandrian (though it seems to have stalled after the 7th entry); I’m planning on keeping the hex structure invisible to my players, and Justin has a good system for tracking progress over the grid, getting lost and getting found, sight lines, encounters and encounter distance, and so on.  I’ll be keying each hex to a ‘default location,’ and then building up encounter tables. (Of course, on a 180mi by 180mi map, that’s 800 to 900 unique locations to key…)    Justin hasn’t given us an example of his tables yet, and I may use some combination of the one-page encounters, multi-table encounters, and hand-keyed encounters I’ve mentioned before.

I’m using the time structure I mentioned before (with simple actions taking a minute and longer actions taking a turn, when it matters to track them). I’m going to have 4-week month (aligned with the cycle of the moon), 13 months in a year (for 364 days total).

I’m putting together a year of weather per Gnome Stew’s suggestion, and may be incorporating other systems from Dragon 137 and the Wilderness Survival Guide (both of which I’ve recently purchased).  I’ll probably use a tracking sheet not unlike the one that inspired Gnome Stew.

I feel like I’m still missing some structures that I need to account for, and this doesn’t get into the real meat of the setting (ie, the city-states and societies that will be the focus of the crawl).

A long time ago, Classes in D&D were a lot different than we know them today.  My understanding, gleaned from no source more reliable than Wikipedia, is that the original D&D just had Fighter, Cleric, and Magic-User. The races were humans, dwarves, elves, and halflings, and the non-human races had restrictions on what classes they could choose (ie, there was no such thing as a Dwarf Magic-User or an Elf Cleric).  Then, the ‘Basic’ set of D&D added a few classes and shunted non-human races off into their own individual classes — there was no longer even “Elf Magic-User” there was just “Elf.”  the game gradually moved away from that to the duality of Race and Class as we know them today — race determines certain attribute bonuses and penalties, maybe some special abilities, but the bulk of the character is his Class, and the difference between a Human Fighter and an Elf Fighter is little more than “one has pointy ears, and on average will be more agile and frail.”

The argument has been made that the way we have things today is dumb because elves and dwarves and gnomes and so on are not just humans in funny hats.  They are, the argument goes, utterly alien beings that do not approach the world the way humans do, and anyone who says Race-as-Class is dumb is being unimaginative and a little racist.

The argument has also been made that Race-as-Class is dumb because it assumes that all individuals of a given race are formed from the same unbending mold, that each one that adventures does it in the same way without variation.  Anyone who says Race shouldn’t be separate from Class, the argument goes, is at best being obtuse, and probably a little racist.

(more…)

This weekend, my brothers and I got together for the long weekend and I took the opportunity to try my hand at a hexcrawl game.  We had limited time to work with, so I told them to keep it basic and make characters with whatever background they wanted, as long as it gets them to this town looking for adventure in the wilderness.  The game itself was essentially the same idea as the Western Marches campaign I’ve heard about, though I’ve never read up on it specifically.  Adventure is to the west, retirement is to the east, and in the middle is a town you can spend your money at, brag about your adventures, and prepare for new ones.

Setting up the game took a lot of work on my part.  It’s the kind of work that’s done once and can be used over and over again, but as this was my first game it all had to be taken care of.  I used Hexographer to build my map, following the guidelines of Welsh Piper. I really wanted to use the one-page hexcrawl encounter system from Roles, Rules, and Rolls, but I didn’t have the time to hand-key even a significant portion of my hexmap, and I wanted to incorporate non-combat encounters. So instead I used a multi-table setup recommended by Pencils and Papers — I had a d20 table to determined if there was an encounter and what type, and then sub-tables for Combat, Location, Sub-Quest, and Special encounters.

Making those random tables took the bulk of my effort.  The Welsh Piper guidelines make building a hexmap really easy, and the Pathfinder core rules have a lot of information for how to put together encounters (so my Combat table had entries like “2d4+1 Goblin Warriors”), but I haven’t really found any good advice or suggestions on what a Random Encounter table should look like, especially not for non-Combat encounters.  Sub-Quests were probably the hardest, but possibly because (for time’s sake) I was restricting myself to one-line hooks.  “Lay the Dead to Rest,” “Explore the Ruins,” “Stop the Mad Wizard.”  This also kept it general enough that I could build details around them during play, so that no two “Stop the Mad Wizard” quests necessarily felt similar, let along the same.

After all that I found that there were a few systems I wanted to have that I didn’t have any good notion for.  How to move around the map was pretty easy: I remembered reading a post on Pencils and Papers about movement points and went off what I remembered from there.  My group had a Dwarf so their speed was 24 miles in a day, so they got 24 “movement points” to spend.  I kind of wish I’d thought to look over that post again before playing, though — I gave plains a move-cost of 5 and pretty much everything else a move-cost of 10 and i like the better granularity that P&P offered (which I guess he inherited from Brendan – who was riffing off Delta? I kind of love all the cross-pollination I’m finding). Anyways, I decided that you paid the Movement cost when you tried to leave a Hex.  I rolled for an Encounter whenever the group entered a Hex, and they could pay half the exit-cost to “search” the Hex and get another encounter roll.

Two systems I didn’t have that I wanted were a method for getting lost (and a similar method for finding your way again) and a system for foraging.  The latter, foraging, got preempted at the table by going with Pathfinder’s rules on the subject from the Survival skill (though I did vary DC based on terrain).  The Alexandrian hinted at what sounds like a really great hexcrawl system that included a mechanism for getting lost, but as far as I can tell he’s never posted the details.  The P&P/Brendan/Delta posts have a notion of getting lost based on Survival checks, and I spontaneously settled on a very similar system, with Survival for getting lost and Geography for finding your way again.  Still, I feel like I want something more-defined than that.

The game went off really great.  We had an Elven Ranger, Half-Elf Cleric of Gorram, Halfling Cleric of Pharasma, Human Fighter and Dwarven Druid.  They heard rumors of a dragon in the woods and met the sole survivor of a group who were apparently attacked by giant ants.  They got lost in the forest a few times, found a magic spring that got them drunk (the elf is the only one paranoid enough to not drink) and finally happened upon a dragon hunter who they joined up with to slay a Green Dragon wyrmling.  The cool thing is, I never planned on that happening when I seeded the rumors about the woods, I just wanted to warn them that dragons were on the table for Forest encounters.

My favorite scene of the night came about thanks to some odd behavior by a player and my inclination to say “yes.”  Early on the group met a travelling merchant, and the fighter spent a bunch of time going through his wares while the others asked him for rumors about the wilderness. He finally decided that he wanted to buy a shovel, and then proceeded to make Perception checks at every opportunity, looking for “anywhere that looks like there might be buried treasure.” I let him make the rolls and fail to find anything interesting, until he rolled a 1 on his check.  I decided that he found something recently buried that turned out to be a goblin grave under an oak tree.  Another of the players asked if goblin typically buried their dead in caskets, and the Ranger (who’s favored enemy is Goblins) rolled Knowledge and recalled that some tribes of goblins bury certain of their dead under oak trees as a sign of deep respect.  None of this was planned (I didn’t think they’d question a goblin in a casket), and now we’ve determined that they desecrated the grave of a goblin king. (I found out later that all my players thought he was digging up another traveler’s latrine pit…)

So I finally got the Strength Tables up on my Carrying the World on Your Back post; there has to be a better way to do tables in WordPress…

Anyways, I got the tables up and I wanted to share a few more thoughts on the topic.  The primary complaint about the D&D/Pathfinder encumbrance rules is that they’re too granular.  Each individual item is tracked with weights down to the fraction of a pound, and characters have varying levels of encumbrance based on their strength.  It’s straightforward but not easy or quick to calculate a character’s current encumbrance and, most damning, it is not easy or quick to figure out what the character needs to drop if he suddenly has to run from a monster.  I have a MS spreadsheet-based character sheet I grabbed off the Internet that does a good job tracking such things, but a system that requires a computer to use effectively is not a good system for a tabletop game.  Knowing what their biggest weights are should be as intuitive to my players as it is for their characters. This is the argument Pencils and Papers made that changed my mind on Encumbrance.

There are, I think, two ways to simplify the system, and both of them consist of moving to a coarser measure.  Delta suggested the use of the Stone, an archaic measure of weight that was roughly 14 or so pounds.  She kept herself to whole-Stone numbers, The Alexandrian introduced fractional-Stone measures with certain containers and the notion of Bundles (which he put as 5 Bundles to the Stone).  The math in the Alexandrian’s system bothered me, with talk about Stone and half-Stone and one-fifth-Stone (thanks to Bundles)…  So my thought was to set a Stone at 15lbs and a Bundle at 5lbs (1/3 Stone) and only track to the Bundle level.  I want to say that if it’s less than a Bundle you should ignore it, but I think that may make problems later on.

One of the things I’m happily cribbing from the Alexandrian is his general notions on how much things weigh and how things should be carried.  Basic weights for weapons and armor were taken by him from Delta, but he added containers and more granularity for miscellaneous equipment.  It should be noted that adding granularity when our intent was to reduce granularity is something to be wary of, but at the same time we don’t want to disassociate ourselves to much from the fictional world, and it’s not desirable to me to allow a player to carry infinite arrows or other such things.

From Delta and the Alexandrian, Heavy armor is 5 Stone, Medium armor is 3 Stone, and light armor is 1 Stone. Shields and full-sized (one- and two-handed) weapons are a Stone each.  Obviously characters should still recognize that a war hammer is weightier than a rapier, but I don’t think so much so that our mechanics need to care.  In particular, Items should be measured in whole Stone, as a single Bundle, or as a Bundle when collected (like arrows).

Light weapons in my system are a Bundle for 5, bolts and arrows are a Bundle for 20, and coins are a Bundle for 250. Miscellaneous gear should cover everything else from rations to potions to maps and whatever else you have.  Light items like a compass or Holy Symbol (unless it’s a particularly big or weighty holy symbol, I guess) can be ignored, and everything else gets put together in Bundles of 10.  In most cases if it’s less than a Bundle it can safely be ignored, but you may want to make exceptions if a character has several mostly-full bundles (3 daggers, 14 arrows, 200 coins and 8 misc. items should probably weight something).  Treasure should be assigned a weight by the DM, with a Stone being a hefty statue, a Bundle being a large gem or sack full of coins, and smaller items treated as misc. equipment.  Something unwieldy like a painting or rug may count as several Stone despite not actually weighing that much.

Containers include things like backpacks, belt-pouches, and sacks, and should be used to explain where a character puts his gear when he’s not holding it.  Weapons are assumed to come with sheathes and quivers which can attach to a belt or be slung over a shoulder, but other things need to be packed away. Empty containers are considered misc. equipment, containers holding things are ignored (just count the stuff they’re holding).

Finally, creature weights.  This will usually refer to familiars, who tend to be misc. equipment- or Bundle-sized. Small creatures are about 2 Stone, the average Human is 12 Stone, and a Large creature is 100 Stone. Individuals can weight more or less if you care to make a distinction, but should stick to whole-Stone numbers.  I’m just taking this stuff from The Alexandrian, so look to his page if you want to deal with larger creatures, though I’m not sure I want to know when or how the weight of a Colossal creature needs to be tracked…

Finally, for a guideline on figuring out weights of odd things you want in your dungeon, just divide the weight-in-pounds by 15 and drop any remainder; that’s how many Stone it weighs. If it’s smaller than a Stone but bigger than misc. equipment, call it a Bundle.

I just read an interesting post over at Pencils and Papers about Character Generation versus Character Building.  P&P seems to take, or have taken in the past, a lot of time comparing modern games to the ideals of OSR gamers.  OSR is the Old School Renaissance that’s budded up in the community recently with a, some say overly-nostalgic, preference for the games and systems of the 1970s.  I would have to say that I am at least on the fringe of that group (notionally, at least), but my interest is mostly in taking mechanics from the past that have been discarded and re-integrating them into modern games.  I don’t want to play D&D 2E, I want to play Pathfinder with hexmaps and random encounter tables.

But I digress.  The post I referenced talks about old school “character generation” where you roll a few dice, pick a class, and you’re done.  P&P says there’s a de-emphasis or discouragement for players to get too deep into the rules, ostensibly so they don’t limit what they believe are valid options in play.  This is contrasted with Character Building, where the player is presented a cascade of rules and options to play with and customize their character.  P&P talks about how he loves Character Building, how he fiddles with his character and plans out his next level ahead of time and writes up character sheets for the NPCs in his background.  This is exactly what I do, and I have the same level of glee.  But P&P concludes that Character Building is harmful to the hobby.  It can be daunting to new players and it can really bog down the excitement of starting a new campaign (never mind just getting a group together at random for an afternoon of gaming).  When I had my players build characters for my Expectations game I feel that I set out fairly rigid guidelines in order to help limit the overwhelming options they had to deal with — they had a Standard array of stats instead of rolling or point-buy and I had soft and hard requirements their characters had to satisfy (generally, be an exemplar of your Race and Class in some meaningful way).  it still took them roughly a month to finally get me characters, and even then their sheets were incomplete in places.  Granted, I don’t expect they were actually working on their characters for any significant portion of time, but that it took that long is ridiculous no matter how you excuse it.

There is a problem with Character Building, and like P&P no one I know (with maybe a few exceptions) enjoys the character creation process.  That being said, I for one dislike the notion of character generation, even if it has the benefit of drastically cutting down the time necessary to create characters.

P&P talks about an imaginary system that makes equally balanced characters either through Generation or Building, to allow people like he and I to gleefully twiddle our characters while at the same time letting less-enthusiastic players generate a character 10 minutes before play.  It’s not clear that such a system is possible, and P&P claims to be working on a stop-gap to use with Pathfinder.  I haven’t checked to see if he’s gotten anywhere with that, but I like the idea of it.

I’ll take a note here and say that this is one of the things that I really like about some of the non-d20 games I’ve played.  CAPES has a really quick, easy, and fun method of character generation, and it DOES work (in a sense) whether you generate a character with their templates or free-form (I’ve done both).  Burning Empires uses a lifepath-style form of character creation, and while it doesn’t necessarily make it quicker or easier to generate a character, background details naturally flow out of it (something which isn’t true of most other systems).

For my purposes, I think I’ll start putting together “generation guidelines” for my players to help streamline choices.  I think I’ll use his “X+INT skills at Level+3+attribute” idea (though, what happens if X+INT is bigger than the list of class skills?) and work on paring down Feat option.  From my post on Massaging Feats I already plan on doing some pruning there.  After that, you have issues like Stats, Class Features, Spell Lists, and Equipment that needs to be accounted for.  I may take a page out of another RPG I played once (can’t remember which) and just bundle up packages, like “Necromancer Spell List” or “Tomb Raider Equipment.”

If anyone has thoughts on this or ideas on ways to help make Character Generation possible in modern D&D, let me know.