30 November 2011

Old Testament Gaming

This would have been completely accurate if it was something old school instead of Pathfinder, where you're almost as coddled and babied as in 4e. "Remember to get your equal CR encounters for the day!"

No, fuck that.

How about there's a dungeon that you have to go through, because you're dirt broke and if you don't scratch up some money you're going to starve to death on the streets while arisocrats trample your corpse with their carriage. How about if you don't get the gold the minotaur's guarding, than hangover you got from blowing last week's dungeon haul on booze and women is going to be the least of your problems, because you borrowed money from the wrong guys and they're going to come kill you if you don't pay up. Did I mention that the minotaur will kill you in three hits? Because it will.

Your players have feasted on Pathfinder's generous optimization options and roll-to-win skills and feats. And they have grown fat. It's all loaves and fishes.

Not in here. This book is floods. And plagues. And motherfucking pillars of salt.

29 November 2011

Complete and Utterly Accurate Roleplaying Games Chart

Was browsing /tg/, one of the few acceptable boards of 4chan (c'mon, you know what that is), when I saw this image.

I had to save it.

Nurah, Guard Captain of Ipit-Apora

I left the aristocracy and power centers out of my short description of Ipit-Apora out for a reason. It's a pretty good one, if you ask me: I'm not done with it. Seriously! I haven't the foggiest who rules over it.

But I've got a pretty good idea who a fairly important person in the city is. Nurah here is the captain of the guards of Ipit-Apora, and she's pretty unusual. She's quite a popular figure in the city's politics, to the point where some people are clamoring for her to use the city guard to overthrow the Council, who the populace claims are corrupt and turn a blind eye to the city's problems. They look at Nurah's stands against smugglers, thieves' dens, and the other scum of society, and look at the Council's dithering, weak talk of "appropriate force", and wonder.

Nurah, for her own part, steadfastly ignores both her supporters and her political opponents, choosing instead to do her job the best way she sees fit. But when the Council realizes that the city guard is loyal to her person instead of her position and that they cannot control the defenders of their own city, what will they do?

Rank: 4

Weaponmaster IV (Parrying)
Iron Will III (Stubborn)
Endurance II (Fitness Regimen)
Swift I (Fleet-Footed)

Weapon: Scimitar
Armor: Light

Health: 5
Wounds: 10

Skeleton Punching Ipit-Apora

Ipit-Apora is a city-state set in the sandy wastes of an enormous desert. It is a port city, and a fairly major trade hub of the world. All foreigners are welcome to the bustling city as long as they don't cause any trouble and their coin is good.

Ipit-Aporans tend to be defined along loose socio-economic lines, with the richest having the most privileges and freedoms, and the poorest having very little room to move, often sleeping dozens to a cheap flophouse on the outskirts of town. The local food tastes run towards well-cooked meat simmered in vegetable oils, often giant lizard, snake, and bird, often served with a vegetable paste on flat bread. The drinks are usually a cooling, crisp wine made from a small prune-like fruit and a burning spiced liquor called kellim.

It is a fairly secular- the population worships the local gods Purifying Fire and the Breath of Life, as well as the Three Gods of Death. Ipit-Aporan temples are loud affairs, clamoring for worshipers off the streets to come and view the holy miracles of the churches, often incorporating street oratory. Newcomers may think that they are ministering to the street, but the real attraction is inside. Each temple has a relic of some sort that the faithful come to say prayers over, and to be blessed. This can range from the Coal-Heart of Great Blazing Uzzum, to perhaps the dagger that slew Garshaps the Unholy. Exiting is subject to a small fee, ostensibly a "donation", though priests are quick to follow, harangue, and occasionally threaten with divine doom non-paying worshipers, so most carry small coinage to give the priests.

On a more exciting note, the desert surrounding Ipit-Apora has a higher than natural rate of horrible monsters. The reasons for this are debated amongst the local scholars, but the fact remains that the City Guard tend to be very grizzled, very quick. The Guard are respected and highly competent, professional, and proud. They typically ride enormous, four-legged lizards that can skim across the surface of the sands and require little to no water.

Player characters from Ipit-Apora are:
  • Haughty and a bit arrogant. The greatness of their city reflects the greatness of the people within.
  • Religiously tolerant. Though they worship their gods (which naturally, are the best and strongest gods), they understand that others may not share in their worship.
  • Lovers of haggling. Barter is an essential component of Ipit-Aporan trade. This may lead them to come off as a bit cheap, or argumentative.
  • Quick to anger, quick to forget. Ipit-Aporans' anger is like a flash-fire; hot and over fast.
  • Very formal to strangers. Polite forms of address are more common than informal ones, and an Ipit-Aporan may scoff at the "uncouth" attitudes of others.

27 November 2011

Lamp Golems

Just saw a really cool idea. For some reason, the idea of interesting golems is floating around the netosphere, and it's not bad. Really, there's no reason for all golems to be giant clay bodyguards. If you can animate a being to follow your basic directions and also make it out of pretty much anything, why would you just make one whose entire job is to beat people up? How often does your average wizard spend fending off intruders, anyways?

See: These Lamp Golems. They'd follow you around, or stand where you directed them to, bringing your light with you so you'd have both hands free to carry whatever you're carrying. You could read a book while walking and still have light to read by.

I'm thinking of a Brazier Golem, or a Cauldron Golem, something that you could direct to walk over to you so you could dump in your ingredients and then direct it back over the fire, so you wouldn't have to get all sweaty standing over a fire, and you wouldn't have to worry about it tipping over or anything. It'd have four or six legs, arranged around it circularly, looking a bit like a xorn except made of cauldron instead of elemental.

You could have a little winged Helper Golem, to sort and organize your inventory and make things happen. You could be like "Helper Golem, pour the essence of nightshade into the phial of brimstone, close the stopper, and shake until it turns red. Then hand it to me." And then you're brewing your own things, having him make your red solution you need to mix. Handy little guys, really, a wizard's best friend. You can get them to organize your library and bring you books, or clean up the place.

You could also have a pretty useful Pedestal Golem, although I'm not sure how often you really need to have your Pedestal move around with you. Usually it's not too much work to just stand in one place while you've got your book with you. You could just hold it with one hand.

If you want to go all Sorcerer's Apprentice, you could have little Broom Golems, although I imagine it'd be easier just to enchant a broom for a little while and have it go to town. Then again, making a golem out of bits you already have lying around could be pretty useful. There's no real rules reason why it has to be made out of clay or meat or iron or whatever other than that's what the myths are made out of. Still, Houseworking Golems would give you the benefits of having a couple of servants without having to worry about them getting paid, eating, or leaving your service because you make them work fifteen hours without a break. Uppity servants, so hard to find good help these days.

Probably the coolest kind of golem would be a Riding Golem- basically an armored mecha type thing your wizard could ride around inside/on top of. It might be a little too "non-standard fantasy" to have your average wizard being carried around by a Gundam made of rocks, even if they don't have the lasers or energy swords or whatever. Your mileage may vary, but there's no way it's not acceptable to have a golem carry your wizard around, especially since it's not fighting while it's carrying you around unless you manage to jury-rig some sort of workaround. Which, again, some people might not appreciate.

Little Bottle Golems could be nice, especially if you have some sort of potion/mixture that can be applied to the ground, or if you give them a little valve to shoot out of their head. You could essentially make either little bomb-ombs or acid-spraying squirt bottles. They wouldn't be too terribly dangerous if your enemies knew what was going on, but their first instinct when they see little walking bottle isn't going to be "SHIT KILL IT", it'll probably be a very bizarre confusion. Until the first one explodes in a shower of fire or acid. OH SHIT SON.

If you've got any awesome ideas for golems, please, do not hesitate to let me know.

Magic Subsystem: Elemental Chakras

Part of the thing I'm trying to do with Skeleton Puncher is keep the traditional fantasy theme going strong, while streamlining and simplifying a lot of the mechanical side of things. A lot of the complexity that's come out of these systems is due to trying to "keep the same system but add more stuff" that gets us bloated rules messes like 3e and 4e, instead of actually serving some sort of purpose to the system.

This is relevant, because one of the messiest systems in any game is the magic. It's important to keep it a little complex, to allow for cool emergent gameplay and solutions you didn't think of, as well as to keep the feeling of magic being a little overwhelming for your characters. If there's this many moving parts and it's just a game to you, it feels a little more dangerous and mysterious than just using "Magic Points" to cast "Fire Blast 1".

So anyways, I was thinking about using a magic system for Skeleton Puncher where you bind the four classical elements to your chakras. For the uninitiated, I plan on using a very basic form of my understanding of the chakra theories, where there are 7 chakras, that open in order from lowest to highest, and each one has a different location on the body (that I'm going to more or less ignore, except for vague location types), and a different potency. That is, you have to open them in order, so opening your top-most chakra (the "crown chakra") is the epitome of a very enlightened person.

And this is what I want. As a spellcaster, you open your chakras as you advance in Rank. This gives you a small benefit related to the nature of the chakra (such as wizard's eye upon opening your 6th, or "brow" chakra, typically symbolising the third eye), as well as allows you another place to "bind" your elements.

Each bound element lets you access the next "tier" of the elemental magic you can access, and also allows you to mix and match elements, sort of. For example, if you have two fire and one air chakra, you can cast 2nd tier fire spells and 1st tier air spells, as well as maybe some sort of fire+air spell (although I'm not sure what that'd even be, I'd have to think about it more).

Really, I'm just throwing ideas out there. I don't think I'll go with this one.

26 November 2011

Skeleton Punching Bards

Today, we're going to talk about the role of bards in Skeleton Puncher, mostly because one of my friends rather enjoys "songing" at people, and it's kind of an interesting role. Wandering minstrels, singers, and street performers are a pretty dynamic and cool part of any setting, because they really did exist and they were kind of weird guys. They were like homeless rock stars, until they got to be part of a king's court. Then they lived a life of luxurious, dandified foppery.

Bards are one of the better character concepts because it's not innately tied to combat or conflict. Bards exist to play music, to be vaguely vagabond-y, and to beg for money. That's it. Having a bard around with you is probably a massive hindrance in a fight since he's more concerned with his mandolin's safety than fighting, and because they're generally the kind of hedonists that consider armed conflict brutish and bad for one's health. If they do carry a weapon, it's likely to be some sort of dagger or other light poking thing, because they're not generally good with weapons.

This is only really a problem in games where combat is a major part, if not the actual focus, of the game. Since they're not naturally combative, they often have to have some sort of minor magical powers, or maybe a basic proficiency with weapons, and that doesn't really fit with the bardic image. After all, the definition of a bard is a performer, often wandering. If they're good with swords, they can do that on their own time. Magic? Not an inherent part of the class any more than it would be for a soldier, or a thief. It has no real business being part of the bard's class.

So what do bards do, then? Well, bards are fantastically good with people, generally speaking. Being able to work a crowd means that bards quickly must learn what makes people work, what people like, and the prevailing trends. They have a lot of friends and enemies. It also means that they're generally in touch with the current gossip, and might be one of the first people in the party to know what's going on and why.

Bards also generally have a bit of a connection with the underworld, if they're so inclined. Spending a lot of time on the streets, performing and wandering and getting into trouble means that they see a good number of thieves, pickpockets, beggars, the homeless, and other street folks around. Since they see these people regularly, they're often on friendly terms with each other. After all, they're practically co-workers.

Let me give an example of a bardic character I've had rolling around in my head, then I'm done here. I'll give him in Skeleton Puncher styled stats, because that's part of the reason I'm writing this at all. (Not that there are tiny dragony kobolds in Skeleton Puncher, but that's totally irrelevant.)

Kobold Bard

Minstrel III (Dragon-song), Swift I (Runs on all Fours), Endurance II (Scaled Skin) , Tenacious I (Annoyingly Persistent), Sorcery I (Kobold Cantrips)

Weapon: Hunting Bow
Armor: None

Health: 6
Wounds: 6

Tch'kliss is a locally-renowned bard, despite living in a human town. Kobolds cannot speak human tongues and most humans cannot speak kobold tongues- but the people of Grave Hill have long since been on friendly terms with the little dragon-men.

He is a sprightly, cheerful little chap who has mastered the art of pose and gesture when telling stories to those who cannot speak his language, or entertaining with a sort of mewling harmonic growl. His specialty, however, is in his Dragon Song. Sounding a bit like Mongolian throat-singing mixed with a dragon's roar, Tch'kliss is one of the very few masters of the art although you wouldn't know it by talking to him. He's very down-to-earth, and mostly enjoys his singing for the sake of singing.

25 November 2011

Skeleton Punching Orcs

Orcish rangers, keeping lookout over a contested pass.

One of the things I'm trying to do in Skeleton Puncher is create an interesting setting for people who want to game "The Wright Way", the way that Greyhawk and D&D combined together seamlessly and let you game the Gygaxian way (or the way Blackmoor and Arnesonian D&D mesh) One of the biggest differences between the way I game and standard Gygaxio-Tolkien way is that very few things are "Evil" with a capital E in my world. Where Gygax and Tolkien saw no problems having beings dedicated to destroying pretty much everything and being happy with scorching the earth and living in the ashes, I'm not for that. Where others see the classic "good versus evil" arc, I see a story of propaganda told from one side. Much like how the Japanese were vilified during World War Two by the US, both sides had their own things going on. Both sides feared the other. And both sides had an interesting story to tell.

The first people that came to mind when I started writing this were orcs.

I've had a soft spot in my heart for orcs ever since my first experience with the Rankin-Bass Hobbit cartoon when I was a wee little sprat. My dad has had a passion for the Lord of the Rings books, and so watch them we did. It was great. Watching those bass-singing, giant-mouthed orcs and goblins ride wolves and capture the dwarves was fantastic, and it's always stuck with me how interesting that orc king was. He recognized the foul, orc-slaying swords that Thorin & Co. were carrying, and that's how the seed stuck for all this time. To Dwarves, they were heroic blades forged for their destiny, but to the goblins? Terrible, hateful blades created to slay their brothers and put their way of life to the sword.

I've always had a thing for underdogs.

But I digress. When I'm a DM, I always have my Orc-styled humanoids a little more mellow and easy to get along with than standard bloodthirsty, cannon-fodder pig faced orcs. They're not stupid, they're not murderous, and they're not innately hostile. They're simply a different race with a different culture. Where it gets difficult is defining exactly how different they are from humans, and that's where you get a little fantasy anthropology going.

24 November 2011

Punching Index Cards

Vertical index cards, my white whale
I'm the kind of guy who, when he wants to get down to some really good thinkin', has to pull out a pen and paper instead of typing it on a computer. I've lost track of the number of half-filled notebooks that've been blackened by the ravages of my chewed up ball-point pens. And I've lost track of the number of times I've picked up some ancient notebook, only to be appaled by the horrible, juvenile, blatantly unoriginal scribbles I've found within for projects abandoned years ago. You just can't keep writing in a notebook that's that embarassing. You just can't.

So I find myself doodling on index cards, instead. They're just about the right size to get some really good ideas down, you can re-order them however you want, and (maybe most importantly) you can toss them out without having to rip pages out of anything. Index cards are the best.

I remember finally taking index cards from the preparation phase to making them a part of one of the two only 4e games I've actually run, when I would write quests on them, or give important items out as an index card. The response was phenomenal. It wasn't a line in some backpack somewhere, it was an index card that had to be taken care of, managed, and looked at. You got to be a little posessive. When you had a +2 fire staff, you're not letting the guy next to you take it, you're letting him look at it, and that's how the players acted. If you let him look at the card, you're letting him take your item- and they can see it just fine without touching it, thank you very much. The quests cards were about as useful. They saw the quest to discover the origin of the weird sacrificial dagger they'd found, right next to the "exterminate goblins" quest and the "help the caravan get out of here" quests. It was a sweet feedback loop, too. The players would be interested in something in passing, and then suddenly, I'm flipping them a quest card across the table. Now, they're getting experience for being interested in things, they're being rewarded for engaging with the game world, and they've got a very convenient reminder in case they get bored or overwhelmed.

I don't think it's much of an exaggeration to say that index cards have improved my game since the first time I tried them.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I plan on having index cards feature prominently in Skeleton Puncher. My motto is "If I can't fit it on an index card, it's getting thrown out." Character sheets can fit comfortably on an index card. Backpacks can hold ten regular-sized items- or the number of lines on an index card that's been cut in half. The game's resolution system? Again, could be written on an index card.

I've heard it said that there could (and possibly should) be hundreds of small retroclone games, each one an ideal as expressed by a DM. I hope the rest of the world thinks the same way, because if Skeleton Puncher keeps going on like it has, it's going to be so idiosyncratic that you and I will practically be best friends if you read the book.

22 November 2011

Pathfinder MMO?

According to EnWorld, Paizo's entered into an agreement with Goblinworks to create and produce an MMO, ostensibly based on their flagship product, the Pathfinder roleplaying game. You know what that is, I'm not going to explain it.

Now, look. I've read the official announcement, and I'm very good at translating hype and excited designer-speak into English, and these guys apparently have been either living under a rock or they're seriously overestimating both the MMO market and their own abilities.

Designing an MMO is difficult work. It's one of the most complex types of games you could possibly design, because you've got to have so many people on at once, and you've got to have things for them to do. And you've got to have things for people to do on their own when they can't find anybody to do things with them.

I'm not going to say they can't do it, because Dungeons and Dragons Online exists, and it's doing fairly well. But it's run by a company that's been doing MMOs, and it would have failed had it not essentially reinvented the free-to-play market. If Paizo wants their money back, they either need to make a spectacular pay-to-play game that people will leave World of Warcraft for (not likely) or they need to make a free to play game with a cash shop. Not even the Dungeons and Dragons name brand saved it from that fate, and I don't think that Pathfinder will fare any better.

That said, I'm at least interested to see where they go. I have a very vested interest in them not disappointing me- I'll have a new game to play!

19 November 2011

Skeleton Puncher Cover-In-Progress

I didn't feel like doing anything productive, so I screwed around in Inkscape a little.

I ended up with this bit that I'm going to use for cover art until I can either steal a picture of a skeleton doing something, or until I can con somebody into doodling up a better cover for me.

Or, until I decide just to take some public-domain art and deface it with my name or something. It's happened before.

Look how simple that is.

Now I just need something to put in the corner so that it doesn't look so empty. Maybe I'll stick it up in the other corner, and have the Skeleton Puncher logo be more rounded, like it's following the spiral, and then in the corner it's actually at, I'll be like "PLAY A GAME OF PUNCHING AND VIOLENCE" and then it'll be done.

I was actually thinking about changing the name to Dragon Puncher, because there are good pictures of dragons. Most of the pictures of skeletons are shitty, because they're crappy enemies and nobody cares about them. It's always either zombies or like, skeleton wizards or something.


As much as I know that this is basic artistic shorthand, what with orange and blue being common complementary colors (having a girlfriend who dabbles heavily in art is a fantastic thing), it still works.

I'm on the lookout for interesting characters with good backstories to transmute into SKELETON PUNCHER characters. I'm thinking about making a Reddit post or something to try and cull some good responses.

See, cause the way I see it, a system doesn't have to be able to accept just any character, and it might even be stronger if it doesn't. When 4e was coming out, one of its supporters said that you can make nearly any character you could make in 3e with it. One jackwagon responded by, basically, putting the class features in prose form, and then challenged the guy to show him how to do it.

No, 4e probably can't make a divine spellcaster who worships nature and can also have an animal companion and eventually learn to shapeshift into animal, giant animal, and elemental forms while both healing and assisting his allies because what the hell? That's not a character, that's a set of abilities. That's not what he's saying, and you're twisting meanings by implying he is.

What he's saying is that you can make any type of character. And that's what SKELETON PUNCHER has to do. When you mix and match the right abilities, you have to be able to get an acceptable version of Conan. Or Aragorn. Or Gandalf. Or Elric. Or the other Elric, if you want. Or Drizzt, maybe, kind of. The point is, people should be able to turn an idea (I want to play a gladiator type guy, who was enslaved and forced into the pits and he's really tough and strong but kind of twitchy, I guess) into a character with enough stats to make sense.

SKELETON PUNCHER is like, 75% of the way there. I just need some more examples of awesome characters that people want to make, and then I can add a little more crunch, write up a DM's Guide thing, and then call it a day. Wham, bam, boom, lookie here, then it's time to test.

17 November 2011

I'm a Monk/Rogue

I Am A: Lawful Neutral Human Monk/Rogue (2nd/2nd Level)

Ability Scores:

Lawful Neutral A lawful neutral character acts as law, tradition, or a personal code directs him. Order and organization are paramount to him. He may believe in personal order and live by a code or standard, or he may believe in order for all and favor a strong, organized government. Lawful neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you are reliable and honorable without being a zealot. However, lawful neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it seeks to eliminate all freedom, choice, and diversity in society.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Primary Class:
Monks are versatile warriors skilled at fighting without weapons or armor. Good-aligned monks serve as protectors of the people, while evil monks make ideal spies and assassins. Though they don't cast spells, monks channel a subtle energy, called ki. This energy allows them to perform amazing feats, such as healing themselves, catching arrows in flight, and dodging blows with lightning speed. Their mundane and ki-based abilities grow with experience, granting them more power over themselves and their environment. Monks suffer unique penalties to their abilities if they wear armor, as doing so violates their rigid oath. A monk wearing armor loses their Wisdom and level based armor class bonuses, their movement speed, and their additional unarmed attacks per round.

Secondary Class:
Rogues have little in common with each other. While some - maybe even the majority - are stealthy thieves, many serve as scouts, spies, investigators, diplomats, and simple thugs. Rogues are versatile, adaptable, and skilled at getting what others don't want them to get. While not equal to a fighter in combat, a rogue knows how to hit where it hurts, and a sneak attack can dish out a lot of damage. Rogues also seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to avoiding danger. Experienced rogues develop nearly magical powers and skills as they master the arts of stealth, evasion, and sneak attacks. In addition, while not capable of casting spells on their own, a rogue can sometimes 'fake it' well enough to cast spells from scrolls, activate wands, and use just about any other magic item.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

According to the test, I'm a ninja. Sweet.

Also, why does it bother describing humans? I know what humans are. Everybody reading this is innately familiar with humans. 

Thank God for Conspiracy Theories

My brother, who's interested in conspiracy theories in a purely intellectual way, showed me this site. I read a couple articles (about such fascinating things as contrails secretly being chemical baths to kill us all, or the fact that dowsing apparently works and isn't at all wishful thinking or fraud) and was hit by a stunning realization.

These things would be excellent in a game of Mage: The Ascension. It would be pretty sweet in any other game about conspiracies, or paranoia, or even just in a modern-day setting, but M:tA is the one game I have like that, so it's going to fit.

I can just imagine: Young apprentice Mages go out on their first blow against dose gat-damn Technocrats, only to find that they're not only monitoring people, but spraying mind-controlling drugs out of planes! They have to be stopped! But the conspiracy goes a little deeper than they'd thought...

Or they go to what they think is a safe nexus-place, where they can rest and recuperate, only to find it the gathering-house of some new-age nuts who think that prayer groups and talking about their "psychic powers" is the way to stop the government from destroying the world.

Or they're travelling through and meet a man who's been in between the fight between the Mages and Technocrats before, tin foil hat and all. He's so happy to see them, he recognized them immediately, and would they mind helping him with his enormous quartz crystal he's been "programming" to defuse the microwave tracking the government put on him, and what should he do about the reptilians tracking him through the 4th dimension?

Good stuff, good stuff.

16 November 2011

What is the Rogue for, anyways?

Cast Knock just ONE MORE TIME

Here's a little something that I thought was interesting.

In the EnWorld.org thread entitled "I know the spell to solve the problem!" there's a rather telling post about the strength and, well, utility of the utility magic presented to classes. And I quote:

It starts with paladin's detecting evil, ruining careful disguises, to much stronger divination magics. Clerics asking the dead body who get the name of the murderer.
"Knock" spells that open any door faster than the thief can draw his lockpicks.
Charms that makes lies and bluff unnecessary (both as skill and roleplay). Creation spells that ruin any commerce system.

And then asks, essentially, what do you think? Is it a feature or a bug? Can you use it to enhance your game, or does it ruin the game?

 If you ask me, this is really two questions in disguise. The original poster is asking "Is it ok for characters to have useful non-combat magic?", and also "Is role protection valuable?" But even that's not what he's really asking. The problem is that magic can be (and often is) a substitute for 3e and 4e's skill system, such that magical characters are able to bypass the skill system by casting a spell or two.

One of the most-cited examples in the thread is that a wizard, at very low levels, gains access to the spell Knock, allowing him to "take away" one of the Rogue's oh-so-valuable niches. This niche happens to be represented by a single die roll that the Rogue's player makes. This apparently totally de-values the Rogue class, which has been spending its skill ranks level after level to have a chance of doing what a wizard can do with a nod of his head and a shake of his staff. Apparently, it's ok for the Rogue to have the ability to make die rolls endlessly to unlock things, but it's not ok for the Wizard to spend one of his extremely valuable spell slots to do the same thing.

The reason? Apparently, this steals the Rogue's time to shine. This is what kills me. If there are honestly groups out there who gather in a big circle and get all excited when the guy who chose to play the Rogue gets to unlock a door, then I apologize, but what the fuck are you all so excited about? You roll a d20. Once. Maybe twice, if the GM lets you roll until you succeed, and then you're just waiting for the right number to come up. You might as well hand-wave it and say "Rogues can open all locked doors, eventually." Honestly, if I was the Rogue, I wouldn't give two shits who unlocks the door, as long as there's treasure or a dragon or something on the other side. It doesn't matter who opens it. The roll is not the interesting part of the game, and acting like it is sounds extremely derogatory. Oh, wow, Rogue, you rolled such a good number! Now step aside and let the big boys fight the orcs, hmm?

This reminds me: The 3e Rogue is damn useless. No, please don't argue. It's a class that specializes in gaining skill ranks in a system where skill ranks are grossly undervalued, while simultaneously getting the ability to backstab things really, really hard. Outside of combat, the Rogue gets to do things nobody else does (which results in the rest of the party sitting around), in exchange for having one actual action that he gets to undertake in combat. He gets to poke people's spines or do nearly no damage. How exciting!

It's past time to unlink the backstabbing and the sneaking from the guy who does the lockpicking and trap disabling gruntwork. More than that, it's time to either make lockpicking and trap disabling an actual activity, or it's time to quit pretending that having a lot of skills is somehow a class feature. It needs to stop. Skill ranks aren't a real class fature. If you gave the 3e Fighter 10 class skills, he'd still be an awful class. It doesn't help anything to pretend that the Rogue is somehow a vital part of the party when you have to explicitly design parts of adventures with locked doors and traps just so the poor sap who picked the only class (other than a wizard, apparently) can deal with it.

This has been one of the things I've been trying to do in my own games. There needs to be a total de-linkage of in-combat roles and out-of-combat roles, such that you can have a wizard with mechanical knowledge, or a charismatic warrior, or an assassin with a knowledge of medieval history. This is how people in real life work.Why shouldn't it be the same with characters in a game?

All us assassins pretty much like the same things: stabby knives, long cloaks, puppies...

I think it's about time that the Rogue got an actual out-of-combat niche, something that isn't comprised of die rolls for things that don't add drama or interest to the game. After all, his predecessor (the Thief of oD&D through 2nd edition) had a pretty good niche. Anybody could scale walls, but he could scale sheer ones. Anybody could see a trap, but he had a psuedo-supernatural 6th sense about danger. All this in a game with 6 classes instead of 60, and maybe one unique mechanic per class. There were a tiny handful of differences between classes besides the hit dice and combat advancement, and still each class does something interesting.

As to role protection, well, I've talked about that to death already, but if you're new here, let me put it this way: Role protection has no place outside of combat. In combat, each player should have something interesting to do, an enemy that is easier for them to fight than other classes, and a weakness that other party members must fill. They should also have something interesting or useful to do when they cannot attack directly. This is because when the group is fighting, everybody's fighting. Everybody's focused on the same thing.

Outside of combat, there's no reason that the guy playing the warrior should be bored, and one class should be doing everything. There's no excuse for it. Every player should be able to contribute (somewhat) equally inside and outside of combat, and it's not for some sort of "game balance" thing. It's so people aren't sitting with their thumbs up their butts, waiting for somebody to make six d20 rolls so that they can get to something that isn't boring. It's not about character balance. It's about Player Balance. Having entire segments of the game where a player's character has nothing to do is Bad Game Design. There's no two ways about it.

15 November 2011

The Steam Lands

A dusty, arid place, this is the capital city of the Steam Lands. It echoes with a tomb-like silence. Though it is aligned with both water and air, it is always dry. The only liquid to be found are pools of colorless acid, or from the greedy, dark clouds that always hover overhead, obscuring what weak sunlight the world uses to mark the day.

The peak is the home of the king of the demons, a grim husk whose only thoughts are towards domination and suffering. Power is the ability to make those below you miserable, and the Steam King is powerful indeed. Those who serve him constantly vie and writhe, backstabbing one another, but it never seems to disturb their king. Their petty squabbles are, and always will be, beneath his notice.

This was another one of the places in my Median campaign that never actually ran. Although this picture is new, the idea is not. As I've mentioned in the Horror of the Deeps post, water is evil and fire, good. Similarly, Earth is law and Air is chaos, so the home of the chaotic evil is a place of water and air- of acid and steam. In this place, water is not smothering or mysterious, but unattainable, and the air is thin of oxygen. The demons themselves ration their water, slaying each other to possess what little water their foes have within them. It is a place of cannibalism, privation, and pain.

It is a very dangerous hell.

14 November 2011

Why The Occupy Wall Street Kids are Better Than Spartans

This is a link post, but to a very good article that does three things extremely well.

One, it has a lot of good historical information about why the Spartans, far from being the shining crusaders of 300 were kind of giant douchebags, and the role of the rest of the Greek states in the battle of Thermopylae. Also a lot of good stuff about Greek culture in general which, even though my Menos project is on the backburner, is a pretty interesting read on its own.

Two, it talks about how Frank Miller is, apparently, a raging douchebag of his own who thinks that people who are dissatisfied with the economic imbalances in society are whiny kids, rapists, and thieves with no real grudge and that apparently they should be concerned with some shadowy "enemy" that hasn't made a move against us since, well, 9-11. Although I'm not sure that "Islamicism" is behind the attacks as much as some fairly vindictive terriorist groups are.

Three, he mentions that maybe the OWS guys should "join the military." This is near and dear to my heart for obvious reasons, not the least of which is the fact that this illustrator makes somewhere in the realm of "fucking way more" than even an officer, who themselves make two to three times as much as the enlisted guys that are actually doing the hard work. I'm pretty sure most of the people in the military (myself included) have a soft spot for the OWS guys, since we're the kind of guys who look at the military's core values (brotherhood, fairness, personal responsibility) and wonder why the rest of the world doesn't seem to get it.

But enough of my babbling, here's the link. Go read it, it's fantastic.

Magic and You: Campaign Settings

I talk about magic way too much, and it remains a thorn in my side. In large part, it's because I can't just "let it go" and wave away all the complications that magic brings- I'm really too much of a Gygaxian naturalist to let something as potentially interesting as the actual effects that magic would have on a society to do what 3e (and probably other editions) did when they had a world full of magic users, and yet there are still castles and catapults and other things that would be rendered obsolete by even a single 5th level wizard.

Let me explain.

There are a couple of "axes" you can measure this sort of thing on. It's a lot like alignment. There are settings where magic is common, and settings where magic is rare. There are settings where magic is powerful, and settings where magic is kind of weak. There are also settings where magic is reliable versus unreliable, but I've chosen to roll that into the powerful vs weak axis, because honestly, I'm not at all interested in trying to mentally map out a chart in three dimensions.

In games where magic is Common, everybody knows about magic. Society tends to move along a relatively sophisticated axis, and many things are dealt with exclusively by magic. The effect it has on society generally depends on the size of the difference between powerful and weak magic users, and the strength of magic itself. In settings where there is a great size difference, you may have a merit-based oligarchy, where the strongest magicians "naturally" rule the less magically talented, or you may have a rigid caste-based system revolving around how much magic a certain individual has, with magical aptitude flowing through families- a a sort of "Divine Right" magically realized. In settings with a smaller difference, society generally continues apace although, again, it depends on how strong the magic is.

In games where magic is Rare, many people might not even believe in magic, since they're unlikely to see it. Wizards and witches are either objects of fear and veneration (if magic is Strong), or folklore heroes like any other (if magic is Weak). Magic users are generally avoided due to superstitions or fear of their (likely greatly exaggerated) powers. In settings where magic is rare, wizards are unlikely to be seen in society in any great capacity, generally choosing to remain in seclusion. The scholar archetype is seen here in abundance, and player characters are unlikely to be able to select a magic using profession as their own. In settings where they can, the player is then able to wield a great amount of power, generally speaking.

Including the power to enforce the Necromancer's Dress Code

In games where magic is both Common and Strong, look to Eberron as an example of a fantastically realized setting. Magical power is the currency of the world, and wizards have generally invented a higher standard of living than is found in most other societies. Warfare is extremely modern in settings where wizards have access to artillery-style settings. Massed formations are useless where a single fireball or lightning bolt will kill dozens. Conflict tends to take the form of espionage, sudden shifts in alliances, and backstabbing. For another great example, check out the 3rd edition DMGs. For all their inconsistent tone, they very often have surprising insights on what society looks like when there's a wizard around every corner... except when they pretend that it's medieval fantasy again.

In games where magic is Common and Weak, consider reading the Diskworld novels. There, magic is generally regarded lightly by the populace, if at all. More than likely, there are still powerful wizards and weak ones, but the difference is a linear one, instead of an exponential one- that is, a powerful wizard might be twice as mighty as an apprentice, but hardly ten times as powerful, or one hundred times so. It might be even more powerful, such as in the Xanth novels, where every single person has a minor magical power they can use for entertainment or for completing chores. Or every townsperson could know a handful of charms for cleaning, or keeping away sprites and goblins, or for keeping a fire lit. In this case, look up our own Real World! Whether it's people praying for minor miracles, or folk rituals, people in real life have traditionally tried to change the world with magic, with generally very minor results.

Where magic is Rare and Strong, you have a cold war situation. Wizards are easily the strongest humans around (if not some of the strongest beings), and they are easily capable of either forging their own kingdom or usurping one that exists. When magic users are frequently walking missile silos, or can raise armies of the dead to fight for them, or summon giants, they make the rules. They decide what goes on. If it doesn't happen in the game fiction, the game's default setting is deeply flawed. This sort of world is reflected in the Amber Diceless Roleplaying, or so I've heard, and it's also somewhat in effect in Ars Magica. There, wizards rule the world in name or in fact. In this sort of world, players are almost required to be wizards, as the world is subsequently divided into the haves (magical folks) and the have-nots (nonmagical folks.) Alternately, magic could be so rare that perhaps one man in a million will possess its secrets, meaning that the rare wizard that does manage to crop up is a major world-shaking event suitable only for non-player characters or perhaps a party that doesn't mind essentially being spectators to one man's rise to power.

Where magic is Rare and Weak, you have settings like that of Conan's Hyboria. Subtle wizards use their craft more than their magic, using misdirection and fear to enhance their powers. They are feared due to the legends they helped craft about their prowess. In such a world, players are not likely to be wizards any more than they are likely to be bakers- it isn't a particularly rewarding path until its pinnacle, and there, again, most of the wizard's power comes from subterfuge instead of magical might. It's got a very pulp-fantasy feel, where a group might team up to stop a particularly vicious wizard from recovering an mighty artifact. This is also the way magic in Warhammer Fantasy works, sort of- magic in Warhammer isn't weak, it's merely unreliable and unhelpful in most situations. A Warhammer wizard is a deadly force in a fight, when he has to be, but otherwise is generally unhelpful. You'll notice Warhammer also evokes a particularly pulpy feel, where the heroes are often anti-heroes and life is dirty and rough.

...this post was supposed to be a warmup, but it kind of took on a life of its own.

09 November 2011

Reinventing the Dragon

Dragons are an interesting, iconic monster that's remained popular outside of our favorite hobby. There's just something about dragons that makes people want to get tattoos of them on their bodies, or wear weird silky shirts with a repeating dragon motif, or put oddly-shaped purplish dragons on their cars. Dragons are "cool."

Normally this is where I'd put something that reeks vaguely of counter-culturalism, but whoa. Dragons really are cool. At least, the well-drawn ones are. There's something about a swift-winged engine of destruction that stirs the imagination, and you just can't help it. You can't help but like dragons.

And since I had fun re-imagining the "Tarrasque" the other day, I'm going to have a bit of fun reinventing the classic, iconic D&D Dragon. And it needs it.

I'll admit, I don't have the original D&D rules for Dragons, but I do have the Swords and Wizardry rules pdf here in front of me, and it does do something pretty cool- it makes dragons' health and attack rolls almost the same across age categories. The only things that change are the physical size, the health, and the damage of their breath weapons, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately for my tastes, it still has color-coded dragons while still making the colors of dragons very similar. It doesn't conflate type with personality, though, which is awesome. I never quite understood why every red dragon should be fiendishly intelligent and also act exactly the same as every other red dragon, for example.

Dragons in the Rules Cyclopedia, however (that is to say, basic D&D), are split into three age categories (small, large, and huge), and divided by color. As far I can tell, the dragons are all pretty much the same except for their alignments and exactly what they spit, but I'll be damned if I'm going to do anything more than skim over the unwieldy, three-page-long rules for Dragons. It also goes into rules for Crystal Dragons, which apparently are so named for their ability to breathe total nonsense at people in addition to breathing regular dragony things like fire or lightning bolts or whatever.

In 3rd edition, of course, everything goes crazy and each individual type of dragon has separate stat blocks detailing its every statistic for each of 12 sizes and if I'm not going to read the Rules Cyclopedia, I'm sure as shit not reading any of those monstrosities.

For my approach, I'm not going to do any of that. I couldn't care less about color-coded dragons. To me, a Dragon is an enormous lizard of any color (but usually reddish) that breathes fire. They might be intelligent, and they might not. Some Dragons are burninating assholes, and some are wise demigods. The difference is in their personalities, because Dragons are intelligent and know that they can get away with terrorizing you and your livestock because they're much bigger and more powerful and as long as they're careful you'll never find them outside of their almost inaccessible lair- or that because they're bigger and more powerful, you really should accept them as a demigod, bring them offerings of food and maybe some gold, and then go away before he torches your head.

To this end, I'm thinking of maybe three types of Dragons.

07 November 2011

Masterwork Weapons

I've been playing around with an idea in my head- what if, instead of having a "plus" level and (maybe) a unique power to magical items, what if you did away with the plus altogether?

What if the big draw was the fact that it was magical, instead?

I haven't playtested it, but I can't imagine that there'd be any real problems simply porting it into a game. You could shift the bonuses to attack and damage on to the fighters' base values (so that a fighter who's "supposed" to have a +1 sword and armor could have an innate bonus to attack, damage, and armor class instead), and then have the occasional monster reduce damage if it was struck by a non-magical weapon. Something like how (as I understand it) certain monsters in OD&D simply couldn't be hurt by anything but magical weapons.

So there'd be value in a "boring" magical sword, for example- it'd still have the properties of a "magical" item (being constantly razor-sharp, resistant to breakage, resistant to magical destruction)... but you could have a normal smith create it. Hello, masterwork weapons. Nice to see you again. Why don't you take a seat.

You'd have to modify store-bought adventures and settings a little, sure, but it wouldn't be hard. Just take the boring swords and axes that don't get any cool powers and make them masterwork weapons. Now they're well-forged weapons with a certain value, but it makes sense that there's stacks of them lying around instead of being kept in a box while the enemy warriors are running around with mundane weapons.

In this scheme, there would be two categories of magical weapons and armor: the "regular" masterwork type that's a cut above regular weapons without contributing to power creep, and then "unique" items that are sentient, or return when  thrown, or whatever it is they do. And here's the real benefit: The items are important for what they do, instead of what stats they boost.

It's something to think about, anyways.

06 November 2011

Horror of the Deeps

One of my favorite ideas that never quite went through was for a world I was designing with my brother via wiki. I don't think I ever settled on a name, but the basic idea was that alignments are tied to elements, and that the combination of alignments meant that people had a certain combination of elements. Humans, being basically neutral, had a healthy mix of each (unless they went through some extreme rituals), but extraplanar beasts had some serious differences.

In this scheme, I wanted to go with Fire for good, evoking the common images of cleanliness, purity, and warmth- I was heavily inspired by the Zoroastrian tradition (as explained by Wikipedia), wherein they would have simplistic rituals involving fire.

This leaves Evil with Water, naturally enough. What, life-giving water is given a bad rap? Yes, absolutely. And here's why.

With fire, you know what you're getting. It's clear-cut and simple. With water, its flat surface hides great depths, with foreign monsters in a bizarre world. It's dark down there, hostile to life itself. It's Lovecraftian, where the shores are mistrusted due to the fishmen coming up from the depths to hunt humans for food. Fishermen and sailors are the bravest folk of all.

In this scheme, the Elemental Plane of Water is a place of great evil, of treachery, and of demons. In this world, the Horror of the Deeps is a lord amongst demons, a king of the great fishy hordes.

05 November 2011

Redesigning the Tarrasque

I was in the process of writing about why I don't particularly like the way that large monsters are handled in stock-standard D&D when I realized that it had gone from a semi-sane discussion of how the current rules aren't all that into full-blown complaining asshole mode.

So I scrapped the whole thing and now I'm going to talk about how I'd go about redesigning the Tarrasque.

If you've ever played 3rd edition D&D, or have ever been on a forum where it's mentioned, somebody will always mention the Tarrasque. If you've never heard of it, it's basically a nigh-unkillable giant mook monster, with good defenses, excellent attacks, and an enormous pile of hit points. It's really not very interesting, sadly, and that's my main point about it- for being an enormous, indestructible fighting machine, it doesn't really do anything. Amping everything up to eleven does not, sadly, make for an interesting monster. We know that it's not killable with regular means- did you really have to make it have 48 hit dice? Did you have to include special rules for rays and magic missiles? Was it necessary to state that it's immune to fire and poison and disease and energy drain? Did you have to list each of the totally mundane and boring skills it has? The Tarrasque is the crowning achievement of the kitchen sink design that so many detested about 3e D&D.

So, let me try and make it a little better. Couple of things going into this: This is remaking the Tarrasque so it's an interesting encounter. It's for retroclones and older systems, but you could probably port it into whatever you want. That's kind of the point, right?

The first thing that stands out to me, going from the SRD link that I've got handy, is that its health is at an absurd level. 48 hit dice is hardly necessary- even a more modest 24 is still well out of reach of any but the most dedicated party. So that's the first thing to go.

Secondly, it has an absurd array of attacks. It's able to attack with each horn independantly, as well as both claws, and a bite. This is supposed to be taking place in a fairly short combat round. It's simply undignified to have this thing thrashing around with its claws and horns and mouth all apparently attacking different things. Let's simplify, using a little math. It's got 6 attacks, with an average die damage of 11 and an average bonus damage of 10.5 per attack. So let's simplify, and say that he gets one attack per round, rolling (4d6+11)x6. The multiplication is in there because otherwise, we'd be rolling  24d6+66, and I don't know about you, but I don't have that many dice and if I did, I wouldn't roll that every round. This attack can be anything- a bite, a stomp, a massive claw, a deadly charge, whatever.

Thirdly, its immunities. It's immune to practically everything, so let's just make it official. The Tarrasque is immune to magic. There, look, done. It's almost immune to magic as it is, and at least this way, it makes it interesting- finding a way to puncture the beasts' magic immunity is now a quest-worthy  goal, and makes beating it down with a lightning bolt or whatever much more interesting. This is a good place to mention its Armor Class- 30 is absurdly high. I don't care what the character optimization guys for 3e have to say- if you're going to make somethings' armor be so high that you can't hit it, just say that. Don't bother including stats for things you can't do. If you don't want the Tarrasque to be able to be killed by normal weapons, just say it. They have terminology for that- it's called damage resistance, and it's what we're going to use. Something this huge isn't hard to hit, it's hard to hurt. We'll give it damage resistance 20/magic weapons, so that either you're bringing magic weapons or you aren't hurting it, and lower its armor class to 20 (or 0, if you're using descending scale).

We'll keep its regeneration- 40 points now means something, since it doesn't have 800 hit points any more. 40 health out of 200 every round is seriously meaningful, and it puts it out of the reach of all but the most hard-hitting. It's still almost healing faster than you can hurt it. On a similar note, I'm dropping all the custom resistances and just giving it awesome saving throws. Now it can be poisoned... if it rolls higher than a 3. And then, what's it supposed to do, again?

I'm going to ignore the section on feats, because I don't remember what they mean but they're probably almost entirely irrelevant. I guarantee you they can be reworded as special abilities, were any of them to be interesting enough to warrant it.

And that's almost it. I'm just going to add a bit about how the Tarrasque's attacks all have the ability to either also knock you around, or stick you in his mouth and devour you instantly.

What you're left with is a creature like this:

The Tarrasque is a creature brought into existence to begin the end of the world. Where it treads, it brings earthquakes. Where it fights, the ground runs red with gore. Entire cities have fled to avoid being in its path. Nobody knows what intelligence, if any, guides it to the destruction it inevitably causes- it doesn't take kindly to questions.
Hit Dice: 24d10 (240 avg. health)
Initiative: +7
Speed: 120'
Armor Class: 0
Attacks: 1
Damage: (4d6+11)x6 or 24d6+66
Save: F19
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: N/A

An enormous, bloodthirsty beast nearly forty feet high and seventy five feet long. Its stocky body is covered with a thick, grey hide, and its back is armored by an impossibly tough, thick carapace. It arms reach almost to the ground, and end in four thick talons. Its head is dominated by a massive mouth, two forward-facing horns, and beady, red eyes. Its roar is loud enough to deafen those nearby, and its growls can be heard for miles.

The Terrasque is immune to magic, and regenerates 40 hit points every turn. It reduces any damage dealt to it by non-magic weapons by 20 points. Every time the Terrasque attacks or moves, those nearby must make a saving throw (you be the judge) or be knocked several feet away from the Terrasque.

Those slain by the Terrasque are immediately devoured, providing 20 additional points of regeneration that round.

And there, look. An enormous, difficult to kill monster that has the same flavor as the original Terrasque (impossible to kill with weapons, impossible to kill with magic, rampages around and wrecks stuff) without being absurdly powerful or unstoppable.

04 November 2011

Tombstone: The Best D&D Movie Ever Made

It isn't hyperbole. Tombstone perfectly embodies what I consider to be a fantastic D&D campaign.

Let me break it down a little. You have four travelers coming to Tombstone, each with a different story and closely connected to each other through bonds that simply will not break. One, Wyatt Earp, is a former marshal and a lawman. One, Doc Holiday, was a gambler, dentist, gunman, and part-time outlaw. This is the quintessential party- they have a shared goal (move into Tombstone, live a quiet life), they trust each other implicitly, and they are willing to fight for what they believe in.

The city itself, while ostensibly guarded by a foppish mayor and an ancient sheriff, are really in the hands of the wild, red-sashed Cowboy gang. The delicate balance between the clearly despised but powerful and reckless Cowboy gang and the townspeople means that it's just waiting for a strong group to come by and make some trouble.

If you rewrote the entire plot of Tombstone to be a D&D campaign, and renamed the Cowboys to the Red Sashes or anything else, and gave the marshal a title (Lord Marshal), make the sheriff a nobleman, and gave everybody swords and crossbows, nobody would even notice. It'd just be another day. "Oh god, not another boring mining town controlled by a local gang," your players would say, "how many times do we have to save these fuckers?"

And yet, Tombstone is more than the sum of its parts, as every D&D campaign is. I'd go so far as to say that Tombstone is a better D&D movie than Conan the Barbarian is, or the Lord of the Rings is. Especially Lord of the Rings, matter of fact.

Tombstone is abound with player agency. In other words, it feels like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday can do whatever they like. It's a wide-open world, and they have choices. For example, Virgil chooses to become the new town sheriff when the old one gets killed. He feels a personal need to bring vengeance back to the Cowboys who've gotten away with the bullshit for far too long.

His friends, his brothers, do not. There's no real reason to fight the Cowboys, or for that matter, not to fight them. The decision is a more personal one- should I risk my life to stop these people from doing things I don't like? Is it worth getting involved, possibly lethally, in a fight that's really none of my concern?

Wyatt Earp doesn't change his mind until it's almost too late.

That's D&D to me. You have to make decisions, and it's not as easy as "Throw this trinket in a volcano or the world will end." It's about "You have to do what you think is best." Tombstone is a movie about the choices of brave men, and of consequence. Everything they do has a consequence, from when Wyatt drives out that bearded fat guy from the first saloon he sets his foot into, or when Virgil and Morgan make themselves targets of assassins by letting the world know exactly where they stand.

So I'll stand by it again- Tombstone is the best D&D movie ever made.

01 November 2011

Vitality in Games

No, I'm not talking about in-game vitality (although I could, now that you mention it, and maybe I will again). I'm talking about the vitality of the game itself, as a system.I'm talking about the way the system feels alive, where you'll do things like the guy above this- where you'll stick your sword in the dragon's belly and spill out its guts, and your character is happy, and you as a player are happy, and for a second you're standing around in that post-massacre bliss, tense and happy to be alive.

But don't make a mistake- I'm not talking about a game that has realistic combat, because that can be overly boring and stupid, too. I'm also not talking about a game that even deals primarily with combat, because that tends to be boring. The only reason I'm singling combat out as much as I am is because it's one of the very few things that cannot be fairly adjucated without an element of chance- mostly because we can pretend to do everything else (and very few of us seriously consider LARPing with our tabletop gaming). And I'm not talking about the sort of game where everything has a stat and there are rules for the structural stability of ditches next to the part about cutting out dragon spleens.

No, what I'm talking about is a system that gets you caught up in it, the sort of system that makes everybody stand up and high-five each other because that was totally awesome and dude, fuck yeah! The sort of game that makes you remember that you're playing a game, instead of some detailed-ass simulation of some scrubby douchebags in armor. This, by the way, is one of the reasons that I don't inherently like the way combat in most role-playing games are done; instead of being a series of high-stakes, back and forth duels, it ends up feeling like an accounting session where the first guy to run out of Resource X loses. That's not what I'm looking for. And I know that it's only natural that, in a game where the duration of torches and the number of iron rations are absolutely essential and you might kick yourself for buying two less pitons than you need, that combat should end up like that. It's fine- but it's not what it should be. What it should be is, basically, a fantasy-themed version of craps. And I think that could work.

In this case, we'd take each player's actions first and foremost and the DM's actions mostly as responses to what the players describe. It'd replicate the feeling of "us vs him", first of all, and secondly, set up a  risk vs reward sort of deal. You could try and do a flying leap over towards the dragon, but it's risky and you could get killed... or you could try and sneak in, with the only real penalty being that you got caught. Obviously, your DM should be a bit of a hardass about it, because that's kind of the point. For you to get what you really want, you need to be so uncomfortable that you're squirming a little bit. You need to think "aw shit, I dunno...", or else you need to step down a little bit and maybe try for something easier.

And then, when the DM is satisfied and the player is satisfied, and everybody's figured out what they're going to do, we get some dice a-rollin. And this is where the dice math gets complex- there needs to be a way to take into account everybody's favorite part of a roleplaying game (fuckin' Attributes and stuff), but also tie it into a "roll this and you win" and "roll this and you lose" such that it scales naturally with both the difficulty and the risk. Something like how your attribute determines how difficult of an action you can "bet", and how every action that goes a couple of "steps" down is easier... but even that has too much of a taste of the sort of book-skimming rigidity that can really kill a stressful moment. It might even be easier just to have sort of roll-modifiers to certain things (like if you're playing a Barbarian, you can reroll a failed roll if it would result in your death, and you can nudge a die in some way when it comes to smiting bitches with your sword). A Fudge-esque system, if you will, where your character is assumed to be more or less average in everything that isn't mentioned.

I think it's the skeleton of an extremely vital game, even though I have no idea how to play craps. But I think it could work. At the very least, it could be an interesting way to waste an afternoon!

Looking Back

They say that if you don't look back at who who were from a year ago and cringe that you haven't grown enough. What if I look back f...