Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Encounter Pool

Last post I talked about keeping dice away from NPC mechanics even though they're being worked into the game overall. I still stand by that. I think it makes things a whole lot faster, since all players can roll their dice at once, and the GM can immediately begin moving from player to player comparing his results to the NPC target numbers.

However, I did have an idea for adding dice to encounters overall. It's called an encounter pool, and while it introduces rolls to the GM side of the screen, it's still simpler than rolling for each character the GM controls. An encounter pool belongs to the entire encounter, and it serves as a way to add complications to an encounter.

You can use it to boost NPC efficacy, for sure. Doing it this way is a good way to make your NPCs more effective without shooting their stats through the roof. If you wanted some collectively dangerous but individually weak opposition (Tucker's Kobolds, anyone?), you can apply successes from these rolls to your NPC stats, but they remain fragile.

The encounter pool can be used for more than NPCs however. If you want to establish some difficulties or complications, the encounter pool is a good way to do it. Fighting on the deck of a ship, with waves washing across the deck, can be represented by an encounter pool that makes attacks against all those on deck, for example.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Easy Encounters, Now with Dice

With all this talk of the game on the player end, I forgot the GM. I should know better, seeing as how that's usually where I'm parked in any given game.

I said at the very outset of this project that I wanted to keep things simple for the GM. Making everything diceless was largely an outgrowth of that endeavor. However, that goal still remains very much in place now that I've put dice back into this game. But, how to do it when the GM has to roll dice for every NPC action?

I don't know. So let's not make him roll dice for every NPC action. That seems like a pretty good start.

Just because the game uses dice doesn't mean the GM has to use dice. The existing gift rules grant automatic successes toward certain ends, using them more heavily for NPCs than PCs seems like a great way toward simplifying things for the GM. In fact, we can probably get rid of that whole Threat thing. I had to put that in to introduce a level of variance exchange to exchange, but now with dice on the player side, player results will vary on their own, meaning if the NPC numbers remain constant results will still differ.

Boom, done. NPCs are now just fixed numbers, placing all the die rolling on the player side. Players roll defense against a fixed NPC attack score, and they roll to attack vs a fixed NPC defense score. We can keep Fight for a health meter, since that works just as well here as it did before. Instead of taking down a Threat level, it can reduce the NPC's stats instead. Yeah, this creates a death spiral effect, but as long as the NPC puts up a good fight in the beginning I'm okay with that. Something I've learned from D&D4 is that fights that go on too long lose their pizazz. Let the players waste an NPC after he gets in a few good hits and I think everyone will be happy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


There's a surprising number of games out there without an advancement mechanic. Your character changes, but he doesn't add to his abilities. Some of them look downright nifty, but in the end I decided that this game needs a more traditional growth mechanism, because characters are supposed to rise to epic heights, and since they're starting there, they need the opportunity to advance.

I hate experience points though. Really, I've come to loath them. They're not evil, but in my games they have a way of taking the emphasis away from the character's, well, character and placing it on a menu of advancement options. The character becomes a collection of powers and abilities, and I cannot stomach another 4 hour discussion about point distribution. I ran a Shadowrun game once that ended with one of those. Literally 4 hours at the end of every single session dedicated to discussing the various ways points could be spent, either now or later at some date calculated by expected reward patterns.

This game is supposed to be about the person transformation of a character from happy, or at least dream-besotted, to a hollow hero of thousands who give everything he cared about for people he doesn't know, or at leas the tightrope fixed between these two poles. What traditional xp systems have done to my games in the past is about as antithetical to those goals as I can imagine.

As a solution, I'm stripping out xp from the game. There's advancement. You can increase your talents and trainings, gain new ones, up your attributes (now called gifts), and pick up more potencies. You can do all of that.

You do it when the GM says you can. Simple as that. As the game progresses and things happen to your character, you pick up abilities, and the GM will tell you when that is. So quit worrying about pointmongering and play the game. I'm not sure how that'll be received, but again, playtesting will tell.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gear Revisited

In working through the book I wrote, I now find myself at the gear chapter. In the original version, gear granted bonus effort points, so the easy thing is to translate that into dice, probably d6s. d10s should be the realm of destiny and character sacrifice; granting it for anything else cheapens that choice.

But now we're back to these semi-crappy dice that become increasingly irrelevant as the game progresses. I didn't like it with skills, and I don't like it with gear.

Instead, gear is going to grant a free talent bonus in certain situations. So when you're in the proper melee range for a weapon (yeah, I'm keeping melee range; just made that decision) the weapon will let you reroll 1s toward certain ends. Armor can stay pretty much as it is, blocking incoming damage. Shields will be like weapons, giving talent bonuses to defensive rolls.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Destiny Creep Revisited

I've been giving the idea of Destiny Creep a lot of thought lately. Translating it from the diceless version of the game means that accumulating points toward your creep is automatic, but I recently wrote a section of rules that changes this to a die roll.

Now, after a scene in which you spent destiny, you roll a number of d10s equal to the largest single chunk you spent. Successes turn into hash marks on your creep meter. Simple enough, right?

Turning it into a die roll makes the endeavor a safer bet, doesn't it? It means you're not guaranteed to accumulate creep, and in fact will certainly do so at a slower rate than you would if it were a sure thing. But somehow, and I could be totally wrong about this, it feels like spending destiny under this system feels riskier. It's a gamble now, every time. So instead of making the decision ahead of time to accept a sure fate and face the consequences, there's an uncertainty principle behind rolling to see if you lose any hope now. That's the theory anyway. We'll see how it plays. Once, you know, there's enough of this thing to play.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Talents and Training

With skills gone, we're back to a trio of attributes and some potencies on the character's sheet. However, while I still don't want to add anything like skills back into the mix, I am still looking for some other hook by which a player can gab an idea and put it on the sheet. There needs to be some mechanical apparatus by which to do that. The idea I've arrived at is a pair of options called talents and trainings.

Talents are those things that a character is naturally good at. He hasn't worked at it; he's just got a knack for it. Trainings are more like skills in that they represent the abilities a character has picked up with dedicated work and practice.

In rules terms, a talent lets you reroll 1s, while trainings let you count 4s as successes.

The major shift here, however, is how you define a talent or a training. I'm not going to present a list of predefined talents and trainings. That makes them the same as skills. Instead, my hope is that these will be bits of descriptive text open to interpretation on each roll. Instead of things like Negotiation, Intimidation, and Knife, I envision these working more like Honest Face, and Quick Feet.

Let's take the latter as a quick example. Quick Feet would give bonuses to any check that involved running or dodging. In any situation where the ability to move quickly, either over a distance or in reaction time, the player would receive this bonus. For example, with the proper description a player might leverage this to get a bonus to a positioning check in combat.

While this makes the abilities broader, by keeping the focus on their descriptive nature, talents and trainings become a way to further define a character, and not with a bland list of meaningless skill names, but with essential, stand out qualities that can be parlayed into game bonuses.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stepping Away from Fantasy RPGs

Stripping skills out of the game was like a slap in the face. It cleared my mind in a surprising way. Despite all the work that's gone into this game bent toward accomplishing its main objective of making the choice between hope and destiny a primary and continual one, there was still a tremendous amount of influence from historical design, for no reason other than that's the way it's always been done.

Take spellcasting. When I got to talking to my friend about the various aspects of the game, I discovered why he had been insisting on including mages, even though he didn't particularly like them: he didn't think you could have a fantasy game without them, not because he particularly wanted them. Now they're coming out. Just because D&D has mages and clerics doesn't mean that this one needs them.

It reminds me of Conan. The first Conan film focused on a trio of characters, none of whom were spellcasters. Yes, they did know a wizard, but from an RPG perspective, he was more an NPC than PC. When you get to Conan the Destroyer, there's a much broader diversity of character types, and the movie sucks in part because of that. It loses focus, and needs to play shifting spotlight just to give everyone a chance to do their thing, even when it makes no sense.

The first film is more of the fantasy that I think this game should emulate. The second is what a lot of games wind up feeling like.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Major Shift

Maybe I just want to be different, maybe I just don't like them, but the more I worked dice into the system, the less I liked skills. I've got some players telling me you need to have them in order to differentiate characters, but I'm not sold on that idea. More than that, I dislike how skill dice are working for this system. They're d6s that don't soak damage. So basically, they're mediocre action dice that are going to eventually be overshadowed and more get in the way later on than anything else. They don't feel right.

As a result I've decided to go back to a principle I had at the beginning of this entire project. Everything's going to be about The Pool. It gives you dice, and it's your health meter, and that's not changed, but now it's the only resource for dice. There's nothing else in the game that gives you dice. If you want dice, you push your Pool to get it. That doesn't limit you to 10 dice, by the way. That's your baseline, but endangering your hopes and calling on moments of destiny can still push you above the 10 limit, and I'm still keeping the idea that the more destiny you spend the more you get, so there's that too.

But skills are gone. Kaput. They weren't working well, and historical design is no reason to keep them. Bye bye.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Basic Resolution, Again

We already know that a character has a pool, which is made up of Hope and Destiny. Now we've got to put dice to that.

In the interest of keeping things fast and simple, I'm setting a single TN of 5. Roll your dice and look for 5s or better. Gather them, count them up, and see if you got enough to beat the challenge of the test. This lets me preserve the challenge difficulties I wrote up for the diceless version (though I might need to drop them a little, since resulting effort will be smaller now that some dice will fail).

Since Hope dice are supposed to be decent, but not great, for performing actions, let's call them d6s, while Destiny dice are d10s. Destiny Creep can remain exactly as it stood in the diceless version, with each roll of a d10 adding one to the Creep meter.

In addition to making destiny dice d10s, however, there needs to be some other incentive for using them. In the diceless version of the game, you could amass much more effort through the use of destiny because each point gave you 2 effort. With a d10, you've got a better chance of scoring 1 effort. In reality, you're going to wind up with roughly half the destiny you roll turning up as successes. There needs to be something more.

So for now, while Hope is measured in dice, Destiny is in points. Spend points from your pool to get d10s, at a rate of 1:1 1/2. I'm also going to set up special "break points," probably every 3 points, that give you a special bonus to your pool when you spend that much Destiny at once. The ideas are still sketchy, but I'm thinking of granting exploding dice for certain numbers, which drop with more expenditure, thus allowing for even more successes and thus granting more incentive for spending big on Destiny.

In application, the dice version of this game is pretty similar to the diceless one, with one additional step. You allocate dice from your Pool to your various actions, just like before. Now, however, once you have your various effort pools, you roll them and look at the successes each generated.

Skills give you 1d6 per point of skill, giving you additional dice, but nothing compared to what a high Destiny score offers. Stats still offer automatic successes, but only once per exchange, not once per effort pool.

Seems simple enough so far. Maybe this conversion won't be too complicated. Fingers crossed.....