16 April 2017

This Blog

The thing about this blog is that it's kind of past its purpose. I've had this thing for years. In its heyday, people would come by and read it, but that was when the idea of talking about old-school D&D was sort of a niche thing.

These days, it's not even particularly interesting. There are a half dozen retroclones out there, including an official reprint. 5e D&D was intentionally made to try and recapture some of the building steam from people like me, who quite enjoyed D&D the way it was and didn't particularly need to play a detailed tactics game every single session.

The other part of the mix is that I just don't play roleplaying games as much as I used to. A big part of it is that I'm taking better care of myself these days. I've come to grips with the fact that I have depression, and that means treating a disease that I've ignored for almost 30 years now. Part of the way I used to deal with my depression was roleplaying games- they really are a lot of fun, they provide a good source of social interaction to somebody with a strong tendency to self-isolate, and they tend to attract people who are a little offbeat (my favorite kind of people). It also helped kill time when I was an unemployed alcoholic.

These days I've mostly stopped drinking, and I spend a lot of time at work. I'm an electrician now, so I spend a lot of time thinking, and being social, and walking around. So when I come home, I'm tired of thinking so hard, and I'm tired of having to talk to people all day. I'm also tired of moving, sometimes- so I play a lot of video games, now. I write little minigames now, and am more interested in board games. You know, something I can play in a couple of hours as a self-contained unit.

I'm still thinking about game design, though, and about critical theories and stuff. I've become a little more well read, politically. I still write all the time (on the weekends now, mostly), so there is that.

I've been thinking of starting with a clean slate on another blog, with a new name. I know nobody really reads this, but when that happens I'll make an announcement and see what happens. It's really not hard to be part of a blogging community (even though the phrase doesn't make as much sense as it did almost ten years ago when this blog started), and I think that something a little different will be a nice change of pace.

Yes, indeed. Everything's changed.

26 February 2017

Making a Character in The One Ring

There are five races in the game, but as I'd been reading about the Woodsmen in order to learn the rules, the more I knew I wanted to play the frontier norsemen fighting for their lives against the encroaching darkness.

Woodsmen all get a cultural blessing, in this case, Woodsmen use their favored wits score as their Parry rating when in the woods. In other words, Witty woodsmen are exceptionally hard to hit in combat when they're in forests. Sounds good to me- characters with high Wits are pretty cool anyways, so I'll keep an eye out for it.

Next, the skills. Every member of a culture has these minimal skills by the time they are an adult. (1) You just write them down on your character sheet. You get a chance to customize it a little later. The underlined skill is a favored skill, and uses the favored attribute rating instead of the base (usually a couple of points better).

You choose from between two groups of weapon skills- in this case, it's asking me if I'd like to be better at bows or axes. I choose Bows, since it seems more versatile, and write down the scores. This character has a skill of two in all bows, and 1 in long-hafted axes and daggers. Every character gets at least a 1 in Daggers, but it's nice to be able to use a good weapon, too.

I choose two specialties from a list of six: My character is good at Herb-Lore, Beast-Lore, and Leechcraft. Clearly he's got an interest in healing, which I figure come in handy.

Backgrounds next. They're numbered one through six but I'm cheating a little and just picking the one that catches my eye: The Seeker. My character's basic attributes are now Body 2, Heart 5, and Wits 7. Each attribute can be used with roughly 1/3 of the skills sometimes- spend a point of Hope and get a decent bonus. My attributes make spending Hope for Wits challenges pretty useful, but Body not as much.

I also gain a favored skill of Athletics, which I note.

I choose Bold and Determined as Features. Features are a subset of Traits, but they're all personality related and can't be gained during play. All Traits let you get automatic successes on some events that would otherwise require rolls. They also let you gain Advancement points- if you can invoke a trait while rolling a skill roll, you can get points that you improve your character.

The next step is choosing a calling. Each calling has two favored skill groups, a shadow weakness, and a free trait. Warden, the calling I'm choosing for this character, has favored skill groups of Survival and Personality, a shadow weakness of Lure of Power, and the trait Shadow-Lore. From the personality group I choose Awe, because I think it'd be interesting in the future and none of the other options appeal to me, and from Survival I choose hunting.

Next, I decide on my favored attributes. I decide to give my highest bonus to Heart, since I want this Woodsman to be a little more balanced. Wits gets plus two, since I'd like to benefit from the Parry bonus in the woods. Body gets a mere plus one, even though I have two favored skills there, because I'm hoping not to use it

My character sheet now looks like this:

Since I can't underline, I've chosen to mark my favored skills with an asterisk.

Next step, I decide what to spend my ten "free" advancement points on- either skill groups or weapon groups. I'm cool with my weapon selections, but I would like to be a little better at the axe, so I'll spend 4 points to increase that. Next, I'll increase my Awe by 1 (for 1 point), leaving me with 5 points. I don't have any good Custom skills, and I'd like this character to be well-respected. I decide to give him a boost to his Riddle, spending 3 points to raise that skill to 3. Two points left- let's make our Battle 2 while we're at it.

Next, Endurance and Hope. These are determined by your culture- mine are 20 and 10.

You start with gear appropriate to your culture. It's separated into travel gear and war gear. I don't know what time of year it is- but if it's cold, I have 2 base encumbrance. If it's warm I only have 1. This traveling gear includes food for a week- if I'm away for longer than that, I'll need to either seek civilization and get more supplies or rely on my skills as a hunter. Luckily, my character is a decent hunter and his hope bonus should ensure that we'll have food if we really need it.

Since I have a song of 1, I can choose to bring an instrument. I'm going to give this character a flute- obviously it's wooden, but I imagine he makes them himself. He's no musician, but he dabbles.

I can have a weapon for each weapon skill I have. I will choose to be fully-armed with a Great Bow, a Long-Hafted Axe, and a Dagger. That's 6 encumbrance, which I write down. I may not have a shield, but a Long-Hafted Axe can be used in two hands, so as long as I'm careful I should be ok.

In The One Ring, you choose what "position" each round to fight in. The further forward you fight, the easier it is to hit and be hit, and if you're traveling with a team that can screen for you, you can even continue to use ranged weapons in combat. Otherwise, you're limited to a volley before the battle engages, and then you're in pitched melee.

You can carry an amount of encumbrance equal to your Endurance rating, When get hurt, your Endurance score lowers and you can carry less. I'm at 6/20, however, and I think it'd be reasonable for my character to have some armor. He has a Leather Corslet, for 8 encumbrance and 2d protection. 12/20 is plenty of maneuvering room for my character- he's not especially durable but with a little care, it shouldn't matter.

Next, Valor and Wisdom. 2 points in 1, 1 in the other. Every time you increase your Wisdom or Valor score to 2 or higher, you get a Reward or a Virtue.

Rewards improve a single characteristic of any item. Qualities are the sorts of items that any culture can (and may) produce, like an especially sharp sword or a well-made helm. Cultural Rewards are a little different- only a shire-hobbit can have a King's Blade, and it would be odd for a Beorning to use a Dwarf-Wrought Hauberk.

Virtues are special skills or abilities. Woodsmen may have a special hound, and Elves may know how to speak with animals and trees. This particular Woodsman is going to have Hunter's Resolve, which lets him recover Endurance equal to his favored Heart rating (8) once per day by spending a single point of Hope. Very durable!

Up next would be company creation, but this is the part where the character hooks into the rest of the party (and the world) and since I'm just developing a single character for now, that's a little overkill. But I like what I've got.

He's a Warden, at home in the deep forests. He knows a thing or two about the shadows, even among his people. He knows the secrets of the forests, and fears little. He is scrawny, apparently, or at least not strong, but his mind is sharp.

For my last step I'll give him a name: Barald. I've decided that he's a young man, no more than 22, and that he'd go well in almost any company- he'd make a good guide, a good healer, an all around solid woodsman. He doesn't have much in the way of social graces (although he might enjoy hanging around scholars and trading riddles), and when it comes to actually traveling long distances he's at a bit of a loss. At least he's got sharp eyes!

(1) There's no way that I know of to start with less built-in points and play, say, a woodsman who was physically frail (lower athletics) or some such.

25 February 2017

The One Ring

I dissolved my 5e group over the weekend. (1)

In its place, I want to run The One Ring.

Now, I'm not the biggest Tolkien buff in the world- but I have watched the old Rankin-Bass Hobbit movie so many times that I've memorized all of the songs. I obsessed over Peter Jackon's movies when they came out, and have had discussions over what, exactly, the Uruk-Hai are. I have an opinion on Feanor and on Elrond.

I've been reading Njal's Saga, as well, and if there's any way to emulate old Germanic / Norse sagas, it's with The One Ring. In those tales, some men were highly regarded warriors. Some were skilled craftsmen, wise judges, or learned scholars. None were considered lowly, except the craven or the dishonorable.

In The One Ring, you might not have any real combat capabilities, but that's absolutely fine because even the warriors don't really want to fight. And most characters have some combat skill anyways- it is not uncommon for Dwarfs or Woodmen to have to defend their homes, and spears aren't that different from pitchforks anyways. An axe is both a tool and a weapon.

But every character's got mostly non-combat skills, too. Dwarves are generally good at crafting, and singing. The hobbit is great at diplomacy, sneaking, and riddles. The Woodsman is a sharp healer and can ready body language. These skills take up most of the space on your character sheet- there are 18 of them, and every character has a handful, and gain points in them when the skill succeeds or fails in a distinctive or memorable way. So you're encouraged, in-game to do interesting things with your abilities. It doesn't matter if you always pick locks- pick something interesting! You're a good singer but you can't be great until you do something truly daring- like charming an uruk-hai with your tunes! Your characters quickly become distinctive and memorable in a way that is actually unique to the player, which is just great.

Characters have both physical stamina and emotional resilience. They can lose Endurance by getting hurt, both in combat and out. Losing Endurance eventually makes you Weary, which is a status condition that doesn't go away until you take an extended rest. While you're Weary, your low results are simply discarded, so you're more likely to lose close rolls. You can lose Hope by picking up Shadow points, which you gain by interacting with nasty things in the game. You can gain Shadow points by witnessing carnage, by simply interacting with truly horrific sites (a necromancer's tomb, a massed army of orcs, that sort of thing,), or by simply being awful to people.

The more Shadow points you have, the worse things get for you. You picked your character's Shadow Weakness when you made the character: You chose in what way the stress of adventuring would bring them madness. And so when you have more Shadow than Hope, you become Miserable. When you're Miserable and roll the eye symbol on the dice, you suffer a bout of madness. (2)

When you're mad, you act out in the way that you chose that you would, but it's the GM doing it for a little while. And he's supposed to make things worse, or at least a little more tense.

You can spend Hope to get a bonus on your die rolls. You restore Hope by draining the party's shared Fellowship pool. This pool restocks when you're in the resting Fellowship Phase, but otherwise is mostly static. You can get Hope for free if everybody agrees you can, but if every single person doesn't agree then you have to spend Shadow to gain it. 1 point of Shadow for each point of Hope.

If your Hope hits zero, you can't do anything- you can merely passively exist. If your Endurance hits zero, you drop unconscious. If you become Wounded, the rules change a little. If you're Wounded and you get Wounded again, you're unconscious. If you're Wounded at zero Endurance, you begin to die. If you're dying, another Wound will kill you. Otherwise, you can last about 12 hours without treatment.

There are a lot of other interesting mechanics in the game, too. Traveling is its own special set of rules (called a Journey). There's a Fellowship phase where the adventurers are resting for a while while the players spend their points and decide what happens to them in their breaks.

It's a cool system, and I hope that I can find some good players to enjoy it with.

(1) It just wasn't working out- the players had no real cohesion or drive, and everybody was too laid back. The system is flabby in the only parts I cared about, and skeletal in the interesting parts. The game is mostly combat focused, but the combat is mostly uninteresting. The default setting is both bolted strongly on and extremely boring; it doesn't really correspond with any sort of fiction I've ever enjoyed, and there aren't really any stories to tell. I would have had to make my own 5e campaign setting, which wouldn't be so bad except that, again, the system isn't interested in the stories I have to tell. It cares about a party of warriors who overcome a series of violent encounters engaging in a level treadmill all the way up. I could write more about how I dislike this style of play, but I'll just leave it at that.

(2) If you're using regular d12s, the 11 is the eye and the 12 is the gandalf rune. On the 6 sided die, there's an elvish "t".

06 January 2017

The Only Accurate Alignment Chart


I know I usually post more substantive things but this popped up on my Twitter feed and I didn't want to lose it. This really is the only accurate alignment chart that I've seen! \

I mean, what would you change?

03 January 2017

Campfire Mechanics, Part 2

The other reason I'm thinking about campfire mechanics is because of one of my favorite games of the past couple of years: Renowned Explorers. If you haven't played it, here's the general conceit:

There are a large number of characters- choose one to be your expedition leader (this gives a unique bonus) and then two to be expedition members. Each character has one of a number of skills and abilities, and also approaches. Central to the RE experience is the idea of attitudes; that is, the effect of your actions on your opponents. Your attitude can be Friendly, Devious, or Aggressive, and so can your opponent. Each adventurer has three moves (and gains more); one each of Aggressive, Devious, and Friendly. Also important are moods and spirit- a mood can be either negative or positive. Whether it's negative or positive matters for the moods that can be applied by moves. Moods take the place of standard fantasy buffs or debuffs- for example, Excited characters have +25% speech and Enraged characters have 25% less defense.

In the middle of an adventure, you are allowed to build a campfire. The three characters relax around the campfire and you draw from a deck of cards. Each character has different campfire cards, and there are some basic generic cards that round out the deck.

As you can see from this screenshot, the presence of Yvonne has included a unique card of hers, which provides certain benefits- in this case, a bonus when you recruit a certain hireling. (Renown are "victory points" and accumulating renown is how you the high score and a good ending.)

Pedrinho (the bald black man) also has a unique card. Every character does- every character has something that only they can do, and only when resting. Some cards are not particularly interesting- Yvonne's just gives you a bonus for something you were probably doing anyways, and it's not often practical to try and recruit many Journalists. They're limited in number, for one. But still, it's a decent bonus.

One of my favorite cards is for a Russian fighter named Ivan- his card halves his attack but gives him a significant bonus to speech, turning him from a formidable brawler to a defensive speaker (sort of). Once used, this change lasts for the entire game, with no way to turn back. It's a powerful bonus, but you have to have been ready for it. You have to have built your party around it!

It's a series of very cool decisions by a very savvy group of game designers, and I love it. I wish I could see more of it. 

01 January 2017

Campfire Mechanics

Darkest Dungeon has a really cool feature that I think is under-utilized in tabletop games: The Campfire Mechanic. If you've never played it, here's a quick rundown:

In Darkest Dungeon, you play as four heroes of varying class. You explore a dungeon in straight-passage sections. You encounter obstacles and opponents, both of which have varying effects on your health and sanity. You can bring items into the dungeon, and there's usually valuable goods there. You spend the money on better gear and more supplies for next time. If you lose all your sanity, your hero loses effectiveness- and if you do it again, your hero immediately dies. If you lose all your health, your hero immediately dies. Hero death is permanent and irreversible (without cheating).

On longer expeditions, you might be able to choose to rest. If you do, you are given X units of time. Each character has a couple of things they can do with these time units- characters can tend to each others' wounds, lead the group in a prayer, or perform occult rituals. You can't get some of these bonuses any other way, and a well-formed group will exit a resting state much stronger than it would have otherwise been.

On longer and more difficult expeditions, this resting phase is essential to completing the game's content. What a given character class can do at camp is an important consideration (although less so given the makeup of the game*), and I'd like to see that in a tabletop game.

*The balance of the game isn't perfect, and some characters happen to have both good campfire skills and battle abilities, and some don't have either.

Of course, part of the reason it works so well in Darkest Dungeon is that the game makes no pretense at any sort of real-life justification for its mechanics. Why don't you exit town with these buffs? Because you don't. You can't rest when you want to because the game only gives you a limited amount of firewood and there's no way to get more. In real life, of course, we can rest whenever we'd like.

And so it is in most  tabletop games. Finding time to rest is actually pretty easy- most games seem to proceed at a leisurely pace, and we all know about the "15 minute adventuring day". The only real way to avoid it is to either restrict access to time* or removing the limitation altogether.

In this situation, it's the difference between a class feature that lets you spend campfire time for a defensive bonus that lasts a couple of hours and a class feature that simply gives you and your party a static bonus all the time because you're assumed to be casting the ritual on any convenient downtime.

*Putting time pressures on the party- timed objectives, wandering monsters, cost of living, reinforcing patrols, that sort of thing.

I actually started writing a little system that included campfire mechanics using D&D terminology. In this little thing, a short rest was now 1 campfire move long, and a long rest being 2. You could also decide to go into "downtime," which would let you basically do as many campfire actions as you thought wise. This downtime ties into cost-of-living, which means that the players need to have some sort of income. This is probably adventuring loot.

Anyways, the general idea is that you can tend people's wounds if you need to, which is assumed to sort of be the D&D standard. If you're not doing that, then you might be doing something in the game world- standing watch, studying something

More on that later, probably. This post is almost as much of a brainstorming session as the original!