Monday, February 28, 2011

What Stays the Same

Going from a diceless engine to one that again asks players to roll for actions changes up a lot of things for a lot of reasons, but it doesn't change everything. I figured a good place to start would be to make a list of those things that don't get ripped out to get a picture of what framework remains. Let's have a look see...

  • Hope - clearly Hope's not represented in effort points anymore, but the idea that it's average when applied to action and superior for soaking damage is a keeper, as is tying it to the character's hopes
  • Destiny - if Hope's sticking around, Destiny's got to stay too. 
  • The Pool - this is going to change, as it'll have to be converted into dice, but the idea that it doubles as the character's action resources and health meter can remain
  • Bloody and Bruised Points - I like the way this wounding and recovery mechanic works. I'm certain it can with with dice too. 
  • Potencies - these will involve rolls instead of effort allocation, but the idea of them remains just as applicable now as before
  • Attributes - though the idea of granting automatic successes seems a little generous when dealing with die pools, I can't for the life of me figure out why that is, given that turning things over to dice means that a character will get less bang for his buck than a safe 1:1 or more that he got in the diceless version. I can't guarantee these will stay as they are, but for now I can't think of a good reason to change them.
  • Skills - aside from attributes, skills are the only things that differentiate characters from one another mechanically (potencies don't really kick in until later). So, here they are. 
A short list, but this game wasn't too heavy on the mechanics to begin with. There's still a lot of work to do in switching it over, but the above list provides a good framework within which to work.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Adding Dice

I got a rough draft of the entire Heroes of Destiny manuscript together and mailed it out to my friend. He got it, and a few days later wrote me back to tell me it looked great and that he couldn't wait to give it a run sometime and try it out. I smiled, dusted my hands, and prepared to sit back. Job well done.

A few hours later, I get an IM with a few questions about the mechanics, which culminates in: "Honestly man, I think I just like dice."

Well, okay then. Heroes of Destiny isn't going to be diceless after all. I guess it's a complete, or nearly complete game as it is, but development work continues, because this was a design by request, and it flew wide of the mark on the first shot. Dice it is. It was originally going to have dice and I stripped them out in order to make things simpler. I wonder, with everything I learned by building up the rest of the system, can I work dice back in without over-complicating things?

Guess we're about to find out.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Simple NPCs

Game Masters can have it rough in combats. While everyone else is running a single character, they're often left keeping the details straight on a number of NPCs, any of whom may have special options. To further complicate matters, the GM hasn't had the time to get to know these characters and their special rules the way a player has his character. Keeping track of all that can be difficult, and the more complicated dice mechanics are on top of this, the slower everything goes.

Since one of the primary goals of this game is to keep things easy on the GM I decided to make the game work different on the GM's side of the screen. Nothing says he's got to follow the same rules as everyone else, especially given how different his play experience and role is.

NPCs, be they characters or monsters, use stats similar to the PCs, but make much heavier use of them and have a simpler, more restricted kind of effort pool. Their stats include Attack and Defense, but they get no Recovery. Instead of a hope/destiny pool, they have something called Threat. Threat is a pair of numbers, such as 3(2).

The first number is a chunk of points that gets allocated on an exchange by exchange basis to the NPC's stats. The parenthetical value is the number of chunks the NPC has. So, in the example above, the NPC has two bundles of 3 points he can see added to his scores each exchange. Grouping up effort in this way makes for fewer options, and thus, hopefully, speeds allocation.

Because NPCs don't have a pool like PCs, they need to track damage differently. They do this with a rating called Fight. Every time the NPC accumulates damage equal to his Fight rating, he loses a point of Threat. When his Threat hits 0, he's taken out. While I'm not a huge fan of hit points, they are pretty simple, and for NPCs the lack of flavor is forgivable, since their specific mechanics aren't part of the player experience.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Despite all the work I'd put into this system to make it simple, to make it about a hard personal choice that players needed to make with every action, and to make the mechanics about the character, in the end the person requesting the game kept referencing D&D. I'm not sure if that's because we haven't played many other fantasy games (come to think of it, I can't think of any others I've played with him, and my own experience is limited to some very short sessions of Warhammer, despite owning several others), but that left me with one major gap in the current system: spellcasting.

One thing that we agreed on, though, was that neither of us liked the Swiss army knife way magic worked in D&D. There was a spell for everything, and with enough levels or scrolls, you could have a massive battery of utility spells to render you immune to every hardship you could imagine. Add to that the massive killhammer high level magic became, and fighter characters become good for show only. Neither of us wanted that.

So I set about creating a system of magic that offered some decent choices without completely invalidating every other character option in the game. There are plenty of ways to limit magic in an RPG. There's drain, limited casting capacity (also known as Vancian casting), components, even insanity risks. In the end, I went with making magic slow. Yes, you can throw a fireball into the midst of an enemy horde and roast all of them, but you won't be doing it every exchange. It takes time to build up that much power.

Instead of writing a separate tome chocked full of spells (I'm too lazy for that kind of work), I broke a spell into several categories. This includes aspects such as range, area of effect and duration. Each of these has a few ratings, and the more you want to do, the higher the cost.

What cost? Effort cost. To cast a spell, you decide what you want it to do, assign it a rating in each of the categories, and then tally up the cost of all the aspects. That gives you a number, and that's the effort you need to generate before you can cast the spell. Now, that's just to gather the energy to cast it. Effort spent gathering the power doesn't actually go toward casting the spell.

Once you meet a spell's effort cost, you're free to cast it just like you would perform any other action. You generate an effort pool and look to beat the challenge rating of the task. If you succeed, your spell is a success. If not, you still cast the spell, but it doesn't have the desired effect. An attack spell misses. A telekinetic effect lacks the strength to perform the action. Etc.

However, win or lose, there's no further side effects. No drain, no loss of energy. If you want to cast more magic, you can do so, but you begin by gathering up the power again. On average, if a mage wants to throw an effect that's on par with a warrior's sword swing, he can do so every exchange. If he wants to roast an entire battalion, he can do that too, but he'll be gathering energy for a good number of exchanges. He can do other things during this time if he likes, but that requires splitting his pool, and thus gathering energy at an even slower rate.

And that's my attempt at introducing magic, keeping it powerful, keeping it fun, and keeping it in line with everything else. It looks good on paper, but only testing will tell how it actually works.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Magical Items

Magic items. What fantasy game doesn't have magic items? I say quite a few, but most my crew wouldn't believe  me if I said that, so Heroes of Destiny needs to include them. Like mundane equipment, though, I'm looking to avoid the catalog effect of powerful equipment. Magical gear, however, needs to have more pizazz if it's to feel magical at all, and not just a souped up version of the mundane stuff. What I've come up with are three ways of granting abilities to pieces of equipment that I hope makes them feel like special, powerful items without making the game all about them.

Bonus Effort
This one's easy. The item grants a pool of bonus effort. The personality of the item comes in establishing the conditions under which this bonus is granted, and the restrictions on its use. Just because your sword gives you 5 extra effort points to use every exchange doesn't mean you can use them for anything, and it doesn't mean you get them automatically. Said sword might only offer them in an exchange after you kill something. Maybe you can only use the effort toward attacks, not damage or defense. Etc.

Bonus Potency
The item gives you access to a potency. A swift sword grants you use of Flashing Blade, for example, so that you can attack your opponent twice in an exchange. You can only use this potency with the item in question, however. That swift sword does nothing for the dagger in your other hand.

Narrative Magic
This is the catchall for other powers not directly covered by the two above. This is the wild stuff. Flight, becoming ghostly, seeing the future, all that stuff. Rather than make rules in excruciating detail, I'm leaving this to the fate of collective storytelling. I don't picture scenes in Heroes of Destiny going the same way that they do in D&D, for example, with everyone flying around firing bolts of energy at one another. I think more of classical legends like Theseus and Perseus, where magic items might play a part in the story, but they're not the mainstay of all action.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


You can't have a fantasy game without some nod toward equipment. Well, you can, but it's no game that any of my friends would want to play, and I'll need playtesters eventually. That said, I wanted a way to include equipment to make its presence noticeable without it overshadowing the rest of the game. Call it a backlash from playing a lot of D&D and Shadowrun.

In many games, weapons either set your damage, or increase your ability through a static modifier or bonus dice. In this case, given that Heroes of Destiny is diceless, the static modifier seems to be the way to go. In game terms, it gives bonus effort.

I don't want to create a giant list of weapons with individualized stats, however. First, it's just not appealing to me from a design perspective (i.e., I don't want to do the work), and second no matter how big that list is, someone's going to want something that's not on it. Add to this the fact that my friend John, who requested this game, is a fan of the riddle of steel school of thought (that skill with the weapon is more important than what's in your hand), making a big list feels like emphasizing the wrong thing.

Instead, I'm creating three broad bands of weapons and placing them into these categories. These bands are melee ranges. If you're in that range and using that weapon, you get the bonus. If not, you don't, but you can still use the weapon. Bonuses can apply to defense, attack, and/or damage, and will be by weapon type. So close weapons get a bonus to defense and damage, for example.

As for ranged weapons, for now I'm thinking they get no bonus, but they have the advantage of being usable from behind cover and being able to hit people who may not be able to hit you back.

I'm thinking armor's going to be a very simple affair. It soaks damage, period. No piecemeal stuff, no cover ratings, just a flat number that shows the number of points of damage it negates from every hit. In addition, it'll be simple categories: light, medium, and heavy. No need to get more involved than that.

Shields work similarly to weapons; they grant bonus effort to defense rolls. There's nothing stopping you from making an attack with a shield as well, but it doesn't get the bonuses of weapons in their proper range.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Recovery can get you back into the fight, but it still leaves you beat up; that's why it converts bloodied points to bruised, not to squeaky clean ones. So how do you get back to full form? That would be healing, and you do that when you've got the chance to rest and recover, and maybe see someone about that bleeding cut. That's a bit vague, I know, but we're dealing with a largely narrative structure with this game, so lots of things are left to GM fait to determine pacing.

When healing damage points in his pool, a character converts bloodied points to bruised points, and bruised points to regular points. A character’s healing rate is determined by his Hope score, and he may apply it once per scene. There is no restriction on how the character applies healing; he does not need to convert bruised points to regular points before healing bloodied points, for example.

Note that healing is based on scenes, not any real unit of time. This means that the GM has a tremendous amount of dramatic license in deciding how long an injury lasts. One scene might be a few hours, or it could be months. A montage of healing scenes can take as long or as short as the GM feels is dramatically appropriate.

So, basically, each time a scene passes that the GM declares a healing scene, you get to heal a number of points equal to your healing score. It's really that simple, but it requires a lot of trust, because it places a lot of control in the GM's hands. There's no clock you can point to and plan out your recovery pace or demand that you're due another set of healing points come morning. Remember though, the GM's your friend. He won't keep the pain in place without good reason, not if he's really your friend. Unless you're friends with jerks. In that case, I can't help you.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Getting Up

Getting hit makes you bloody, but that's not the end of the story. When a hero gets knocked down, he gets back up, and in this game you're playing a hero. It's right there in the title. This is handled through recovery.

Recovery is something that happens at the top of every exchange before anyone bids any points. Before anyone does anything else, they convert a number of bloodied points to bruised points. Then the exchange progresses as normal. What are bruised points? They're normal Hope and Destiny points that can't take any more damage. So you can still bid then to generate effort, but they're still useless in terms of taking additional hits.

Notice I said recovery takes place before each exchange. That's because recovery isn't healing so much as it is rallying your reserves and getting your fight back after taking a shot, or a most palpable hit if you're feeling more poetic. That cut isn't magically closing up, but the initial shock and pain that took a big chunk out of your ability to act is being worn down by your irresistible heroism. You'll still need that looked at, but as far as this conflict is concerned it's only going to be in the way for so long. Adrenaline and pressing need can keep you on your feet until your entire Pool is bloodied and bruised.

So what about in the calm spaces? Conflict resolves and the game returns to narrative time not broken in exchanges. Can you ignore the damage or at least go straight to bruised? As it turns out, no. If you end a conflict with bloodied points, they stay bloodied. Without that moment of crisis to push you on injuries, and their debilitating effects, have the luxury of lingering. If, however, you enter into another conflict with bloodied points in your pool, you can begin converting them to bruised points right away. The conflict's back, and so's that pressing need in which heroes thrive.