Friday, August 29, 2014

Putting the "Oh Sh*t!" back in Ogre...Damage Reduction in 5th Edition

During the long alpha and beta test of D&D 5th edition (a.k.a D&D Next), I ran an accelerated campaign through Ghost of Dragonspear Castle, by accelerated I mean 1 level per session, and we played for 10 sessions through the adventure over 5 months.  During which I've noticed that seldom could the bad guys last more than a few rounds, even when they were large solo opponents.  I even threw at them encounters with eight Trolls as optional things, and yes they took damage, but it didn't seem like they party was ever afraid, at least not after the limbs started flying off these guys.

Without trying to give away any spoilers, it was so bad that even one of the main bad guys was way overpowered for the party at 6th level when they encountered them, and the guy knew they were coming so he was fully buffed...Having Haste, Stone-Skin and Immunity to every damage causing spell the party had, and having resistance to normal weapons (combined with Stone-Skin this was having most party attacks dealing 1/4 damage) only the monk, who's hands are considered a magical weapon could deal 1/2 damage.  On top of this, his base hit point were over 100...combined all of these factors should have made this an impossible, but it wasn't.

They dealt over 400 damage to this foe, all of the spells were completely ineffective, and as mentioned above the weapons were only 25% effective for the most part.  This battle combined with another one where the Ranger in the group was scouting ahead, about 50 feet in front of the party was surprised by a Behir.  The Behir only received it's surprise round and one other round of attacks, even on the surprise round having swallowed the Elven ranger whole, it never made it to the 2nd round of combat.

Granted, at first I liked the fact that D&D Next had quick battles (especially compared to 4E), but after awhile they were just too quick, even for complex battle where I'd actually pull out miniatures to make sure the players knew what was going on, it was hardly worth the effort as it was over before it really started.  I do like the AC changes, where they are lower and that the combat bonuses slowly increase and begin around +4 to +6 for the party at low levels.

Players would seldom even bother to think before entering a battle, the attitude was, "Sure my weapon deals 1/4th damage, but this fight will be over soon enough."  This got me thinking, what was missing?  I even started adding more resistances to creatures where it made sense, like Undead gaining a resistance to cold.  I was attempting to get the party to think before rushing into battle, what really seemed to do the trick was granting creatures damage reduction (DR).

As an example a Fighter with a Great Sword vs Silver Dagger going up against a Werewolf.  Without Monster Manual (not being available until next month) I have no idea what the actual stats are on a Werewolf, so I'm making them up here to demonstrate how using resistances, vulnerability and DR changes the battle.

Granting the Werewolf resistance to normal weapons would cause the great sword to deal (2d6+3) / 2, or 5 on average per hit.  The dagger, even if it dealt normal damage would be d4+3, or only 5.5 on average.  This would hardly make it worth it to go through the effort and expense to carry around a silver dagger, even if the players knew Werewolves were in the area.  However, by adding vulnerability vs silver to the werewolf changes the story.  With this the average damage with the silver weapon is twice that of the great sword.  Further granting the werewolf a DR of 2 cause the Great Sword's average to be reduced to 3, where DR does not apply to vulnerable attacks, so the dagger remains at 11 which is nearly a x4 (using average damage) over the great sword.  Now that's worth having.

In the above example, a creature with all three resistances, vulnerabilities and damage reduction (RV&DR) clearly shows the benefit of not only going through the extra trouble of finding a weapon that exposes the creatures weakness, but even in the extreme great sword vs a dagger, it's over three times more effective using the dagger.  This is the type of game mechanic change that I was looking for, one that exposes how useless always rushing into battle with the same attack can be, versus thinking about how to best effect the creature encountered, then using that to your advantage.

I also really wanted to reduce the number of opponents required to make a battle challenging, so rather than me having to use three ogres, because factoring in the damage per round of the party and the hit points of an ogre, the "mathing" it all out and guessing that with three of them it will grant the ogres 6 to 8 attacks on the party before the party finishes them off.  Reducing the number of opponents by adding RV&DR does increase the complexity of the reduced number of creatures, but it also reduces having to track more of them and gives the party less to focus on as well.  The goal could be realized by granting damage reduction and giving the ogre a cleaving attack (because why wouldn't it be able to swing through an arc of heroes?).

Then three ogres could be replaced with a single one, that is a much more dangerous opponent where the creatures DR might reduce every attack by 5, causing only "good" attacks to get through.  This puts characters with magical powers into a more critical into defeating such a the creature, where the tanks are more put into the roll of simply stopping this hulk from getting to the other party members, with the majority of the melee attacks on such a creature be ineffective, though not completely as character's attacks in 5th edition typically are in the range of 2d6+3 damage (or basically [Weapon] + 3 for Attribute + d6).  Magical Weapons would grant a Penetrate of 2 (on average), thus a magical sword vs the Ogre in the hands of a 16 Str Fighter would exactly overcome the DR of 5, allowing for straight weapon damage to be rolled each attack.

It seems like a simple mechanic (if you can deal with arithmetic) to reduce the meta-gaming that goes on in most groups (at least the ones that I play in), and not only that it will force the party to try to use things like the environment to their advantage, or attempt maneuvers like finding a weak spot in the Ogre's defenses, which would force them an attack with disadvantage or at a -5 to hit and would do things like penetrate the creatures DR and possibly deal a critical hit, which grants an extra damage dice.  Something that an archer might want to perform, allowing their arrow to go from (d6+3)-5 to (2d6+3), but at a significant penalty, but definitely more heroic of an action as well.

For many battles the addition of DR will likely not have much of an effect on the speed or actions of the party, as bandits or the like will only have a DR of 1 or up to DR 3, though likely no vulnerabilities or resistances. However for fantastic creatures, like ogres, giants, umber hulks and of course dragons, adding DR along with a special ability that grants them some type of multi-attack or area of effect attack makes these creatures all of the sudden a force to reckon with or something that requires them to change tactics.  No longer is every just everyone essentially performing their standard "at-will" power...Though, when added DR you likely will have to scale AC to an appropriate number.  For example, Hobgoblins AC 18 (chain+shield), should likely be an AC of 16 DR 4.

Two more things to add...I admit that all my data on was gathered from the alpha/beta versions of D&D Next, and so some creatures may have already been altered, possibly with the resistances and vulnerabilities that make sense that they should have, or their hitpoints and damage may have been altered such that granting them too much DR turns them into a TPK machine, so take the above advice with caution as you explore the new 5th edition.

Taking the time for the party to use things like fire or other environmental effects to their advantage will become important in their situations when their weapons are not as effective as they want them to be.  Though don't forget the party also has DR, typical values might be Leather = DR1, Chainmail = DR3, Platemail = DR5, with shields granting either +1 AC or DR2.

Looking at it this way it is clear that a Paladin in platemail with an AC of 19 and DR of 5, is an impossible target for say goblins to touch, so the additional change that needs to happen is the drops by half the value of the DR granted (like the Hobgoblin example above).  So in this case the Paladin's AC would be 16 (the same hold true for dragons, but Ogres with an AC of 11 probably wouldn't need to change Ogres might need to in fact go the other direction to a 13AC).  The thought being they are easier to hit, as their bulk slows them down, just the attacks are less effective.  Also, kobold/goblin tactics would change, they would likely have one of them aid another one, granting them advantage on their attack, this attack would then attempt a called shot (see above, with disadvantage canceling the advantage), thus over all it halves the number of attacks on well armored foes, but the damage on the successful attack would go from (d4+2)-5 to 2d4+2 (using kobold damage here).

The DR can be situational as well, such as heavy boots vs caltrops or leather gauntlets vs poison needles, but this would only matter in cases such as Orc barbarians that aren't wearing much, if any, armor, but have their thick heavy steel toed boots, and the party Druid casts Spike Growth...Then the 3 DR of their boots would help them vs the Spike Growth damage.

In my personal campaign all the DR is going to be handled behind the scenes, when the archer shoots an arrow at a skeleton and announces "7 damage", I'll halve it and subtract 2, and record the resulting 2 damage, along with a verbal description, "Your arrow connects with the skeletons leg, but the arrow mostly ricochets off taking small fragments of bone with it."  They will get the hint of what's going on when the Ranger is normally 2:1 vs the Cleric in body count, but with the Cleric's mace they are out killing the Ranger 2:1 in a battle vs skeletons, and the Barbarian with their maul is simply a bone crushing machine.

This way I can tweak the mechanics along the way, most of it is not that hard as I created "Monster Stat Cards" of all the creatures for the session, including party members and I have all the notes on them, plus its not a big deal if I forget DR sometimes, and attribute it to a lucky shot.  I'm sure many will view this as an unnecessary complexity, but it seems like a fairly easy way to add additional realism into ones campaign, especially if you're seeing the same thing I was seeing in the beta of D&D Next.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sculpting Miniatures

Seeing what some of these guys are doing on KickStarter as far a miniatures go is pretty amazing.  An example of this is the guys at Mercs Miniatures in there successfully funded Myth game, for the $100 level you get around 150 minis, which the prototypes of look incredible.  Plus, in addition to the 150 minis you get a lot more components that allow you to actually play the game.

What gets me is I look at the most basic of playing pieces, which is the Meeple, which the Game Crafter's sell for $0.40 each.  Now I realize that Merc is a miniature design company, but other games do essentially the same thing.  Zombiecide KickStarters also included a huge number of minis for the cost of the game.

What I'd like to know is how these companies design and manufacture minis of such high quality and add them to their games with other high quality components and do all this at half the price that I can do the same thing with crappy components and the most basic of game pieces.

I realize that I just need to spend some time chatting with game designers to figure out this magic formula, but I know that it essentially comes down to it being their full time job, and for me it's just a one person part time hobby.  To get the costs down as much as they do, they must be doing runs of tens of thousands of the common figures, and these runs are done in China where they end up costing pennies per final product figure.  Where for my stuff it'd be a run of like 10 or 100, from someplace in america where everything cost much more.

So, my solution for at least my prototypes has been to learn how to sculpt.  I agree that is sounds silly, especially since I have enough (actually more than enough) hobbies as it is, but when you look at the cost of even dopey looking custom meeples, they are around $1 to $4 per figure.  So, i figure an 8 oz. block of Sculpty Putty is about $5 from the local craft store, and a set of tools was another $10...So for an investment of around $50, I've got enough supplies to make an army of mini-figs and even if they are dopey looking, they beat the crap out of resorting to a standard wooden cube for $0.10.

My first project was a 4X game I'm calling Eternal Wars, where each player controls an Arch-devil and manages resources to be the one to a mass the most victory points while building a palace for themselves and increasing their personal power.  This is essentially a typical resource management game with each player requiring 8 Devil Meeples, a custom Meeple for representing each of the three resources and and another 3 place holder figures, so basically I was originally thinking a standard meeple for most of these, which came to about round $7 per player plus another $7 for the demon hordes...So $35 in meeples alone.

So, I basically nearly made back my $50 in sculpting supplies in my first project.  I made simple devil meeples out of the putty, which consist of a ball for the head on top of tapered cylinder body, with horns, eyes and a goatee.  Yeah, they are some what dopey, but also sort of cute, and actually look much better than the meeple alternatives.  Then I made the resource trackers: a crown for power, a tormented soul and a demonic slave, and crafted the demonic hordes similar to the slaves.

So now I have a set of 50 or so custom meeples and still have hardly dented my putty supplies, which also includes allowing the kids to craft a whole bunch of creatures and items of their own design.  The sculpting is something that I can do late into the night while I catch up on a Netflix series, which otherwise would be, lets face it, wasted time.

In addition to the dopey looking demons and devils, I've also started making custom 25mm figures of heroes that could be used as characters or NPCs in a fantasy campaign.  Now I'm not sure what my original motivation was here, seeing that I have nearly 2500 minis as it is, I think it was more to see if I could.

I admit that my first two were less than desirable, but looking at some of the WizKids minis, even my crappy ones are on par with some of these crappy minis.  My third attempt is already looking like an actual usable mini, even in the middle stages of creation.  It really surprised me how fun and easy it was to get to this point.

Now, the 25mm figures took considerable more time than the ball and cylinder devils and demons, but to rough out a mini takes about twice as much time as the very simplistic meeples.  The good thing about the 25mm heroes is that the wire frame takes up a fair amount of the overall model volume so that they take hardly any putty to create, in contrast to the devil and demons with no internal structure so their entire volume is putty.  The other good thing about the hero figures is that since they will eventually be primed and painted, so they can be sculpted out of any material that is left over...so I typically just mix all my scraps together for use in mini creation.

I'm only on my forth hero mini (the archer), but already I'm feeling like its something that is an enjoyable hobby, and can't wait to display my own custom creations at the gaming table once I have them painted.

I still have some work to do on the minis before I consider priming them for painting, and am liking going to be switching to "Green Stuff" on any future additions to the characters, to avoid having to bake them over and over (plus I just want to see the difference in the material).  I like the idea of being able to add layers to the minis and only having to wait for the green stuff to dry.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Next RPG

I've just got finished getting my initial version of "D&D Thoughts" down on paper (or rather down online), and I wanted to switch gears and get down what I think the Next RPG should be, which just so happens to be the system I've been working on, but I want to go a little more into what exactly are the problems that I've attempted to fix.

First off I think the conflict resolution is critical to any game, and that the resolution should default to the dice ultimately defining success or failure.  I think the best combat mechanic should be something similar to what skirmish system use.  I my opinion most RP systems fail to produce what I think combat should be, which is a scary deadly event that should be avoided except when the odds are greatly in your favor.

Most RPG both tabletop and computer/console revolve around the players killing essentially legions of enemies, or even if they lean toward fewer battles the also tend to lessen the impact of any given round, by making the damage sustained in a given round a small fraction of a creatures overall health.

On the opposite end of this spectrum are the war-games where they are dealing with possibly 100 vs 100 opponents, where they need much faster resolution, but these games are not concerned with the contributions of individual combatants, they are all about squad vs squad rolls...there are simply too many units on the field to place too much focus on individuals, but they do demonstrate how deadly combat can be.

The systems that seem to have the correct focus are the tactical skirmish systems.  In these their is enough troops on the field that they can't be over concerned about allowing individual heroics to play too great a roll, they minimize the offensive and defensive rolling to get to the resolution as fast as possible, they seem to have the correct amount to deadliness in them to get to the final resolution of the battle as quickly as possible, and yet the stronger side does typically prevail against the weaker opponent.

This is what I think should be pulled into more RP system mechanics.  Too often the attack rolls miss or are blocked completely round after round, with in my mind seem like unnecessary dice rolling, the purpose of combat is to come to a resolution and move on.  When the hit points or resistances of the defenders are such that it's going to take 20 rounds of rolling to determine who will win, than something is wrong.


I believe a good RP system should adopt a skirmish battle mechanic, what this does is combine the best of both worlds as far as individual contributions and getting to overall resolution.  Combat needs to be deadly for it to have any meaning, so there's nothing wrong with a weaker opponent beating a stronger one...there's a lot of things that can be considered in a battle.  The dice attempt to make a guess at the probability, but once the dice are determined then the outcome needs to be determined by their result.

Heroes will have special abilities that allow them to cut through some of the randomness of battle, the odds have to be in a hero's favor or they would never engage, after all how many times can one realistically beat a 50/50 scenario.

This takes me to my second point, which is "Damage hurts".  Knowing that combat is deadly, but heroes have their ways of bending the odds in their favor, however lasting damage needs to be another equalizer in the grand scheme of things.  When five minutes after a battle everyone is back up to full strength it takes away another whole aspect of the game.

Having damage linger around for hours can represent fatigue, for days can represent significant wounds, and for weeks can represent broken limbs or possibly some extraordinarily vile effect.  When damage always recovery quickly it removes the ability to represent in game terms wounds or broken limbs.

Also if damage comes back too quickly, it completely negates the point of weaker opponents to be encountered.  If a creature has almost zero chance of killing the heroes, but their damage lingers, now the opponent has a purpose...the party may have to rotate around who is going to be defending if they want everyone to make it to the end.  It becomes more of an endurance contest, without lingering damage it completely removes these types of adventure scenarios from play.

Lastly, rolls must be made with a pool of dice, its the only way to account for both extremely difficult and extremely easy tasks.  It's tough to account for odds in less than a 5% chance accurately without using a pool of dice, even d% most often are really only a d10 (if you have a 45% chance of success and if the ten's place is anything except a 4 you don't need the second dice, or if the 00 = 100 then you always need to roll the second die if the first comes up a 0).

When a task is easy the more dice that are rolled puts the odds of rolling average at a higher percentage, for example typical attributes are randomly generated using 3d6, which means only 1 in 216 will have and 18 or a 3, but your chance of having at least a 10 are about 50/50.

The addition of exploding dice (when a dice rolls the maximum number it gets to be rolled again, with continual rolling allowed so long as it rolls maximum) allows for those extremely difficult rolls to be made even when the chances of success are very small.

When a dice pool is rolled you can use the results to help craft an explanation of the results, especially true if certain dice were added for certain random effects.  For example some dice might represent you skill in battle, other my represent you weapon, other the opponents armor and other good or bad might have been added for environmental effects.  In which case the results for each type of die can be summarized, for example you might be able to say, "Even though I hit them in the dead center of their breastplate where their armor was thickest, my skill with the blade was able to drive the weapon right through."

Dice pools also aid in contests where the warrior may be rolling 6 dice vs a wizard that may only be rolling 1 or 2 dice, but even with that there is a chance (especially with exploding dice) that the wizard might be able to beat the warrior in a test of strength.  In which case you could likely chalk up the wizards victory to a well timed distraction that gave him the victory.

These are all things that all versions of D&D and Pathfinder fail at, which is ultimately the reason why I've felt the need to craft my own game mechanics to take these and more into account.  Ultimately, I felt the need for dice pool based skirmish mechanics that allowed for fast and deadly combat resolution with possible lingering effects from encounter to encounter.


D&D Thoughts

I know it's been a while since I wrote, but I recently saw a post from a fellow game designer in a forum asking if any of us kept a design journal, I thought about the post and realized that's essentially what I do when I write entries for my blog.

It does help to get the thought down by writing them on the blog, even if no one I know ever sees them written, I know that somewhere someone is going to stumble across the topic and may be stirred up enough to ask me a question, which in turn will re-invigorate me.


Lately I've been DMing a D&D Next campaign, The Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle (GoDs for short).  To make things easy and to see if they've addressed the high level game mechanics I have been allowing the party to level after each and every session.  Which next time will be our 9th session, so the campaign is right around 50 hours long at this point, my estimation is that we'll wrap up about the 10th session.

I have really enjoyed the module, it is way more deadly than any 4E adventure that I've seen, not that I never saw a TPK in 4E, but this adventure has a number for situations that if a player makes the wrong decision, they will likely die, and most likely take the party with them.  It's this feeling that gives me a nostalgic feeling while playing it.

I did like 4E, but always felt that it was flawed at its core...but it didn't stop me from playing it, I just realized that I have over 400 hours or recorded 4E sessions, 100 hours was a single campaign which took the party from 1st level to 9th level, before the met there end in a dragons lair.  Another 80 hours was Revenge of the Giants, where we started at level 13 and played through level 18, we ended up rushing through the end of that adventure, most other campaign were 30 to 50 hours combined with probably 80 hours of Gameday/One-Off  adventures.

I've heard many people bitch about how bad 4E was, but when it comes down to it, I find out that most of them have never even played it, they are just going off of "what they heard".  This really annoys me, I really wanted to like it, and in the end I think I had it figured out...if you read my Hardcore 4E guidelines where I discuss changes to "fix" it, and I think if one would adopt my incremental leveling as well, it does make for a near ideal RP system.

The flaws that remain can only be fixed by going away from the d20 mechanic to more of a dice pool, and to limit the class choices...some of the non-PHB1 classes were simply too over powered.  Though even the classes that are over powered in traditional 4E might be balanced by adopting the other rules that I outline.

With D&D Next I feel the sweet spot is still in the levels 3rd to 6th, as it was with both 1st ed and 2nd ed for the game.  Even at this, I felt like the resistances and vulnerabilities for many creatures needed on the fly adjustment by me to "make logical sense", and in many cases the heroes were over powered.  By this I mean that they seems to give the strikers (I know the traditional definition is not there for these classes in D&D Next, but the classes still serve the same role in D&D Next as they did in 4E) a bonus d6 or 2d6 for nearly every attack, and monsters seldom received similar adjustments.

I don't mind the bonus damage that the heroes gained in Next, but I think the HP of the creatures should be increased (especially larger creatures), and most should get a similar damage modifier when attacking the party...And as with nearly every edition, damage is simply too short lived...Am I the only one the feels if the whole party is near death, it should take longer than a single day to recovery from this?

My favorite things about Next is the fact that To-Hit bonuses have been reduced, as well as AC are much lower, and the best part is that AC no longer increases as a creature levels.  I also like the new Attune rules for magic items, and that leveling is typically a very quick ordeal.

Game Components and Design


The Game Crafters (https://www.thegamecrafter.com/) have been coming out with a few new products, and even thought I wish they would increase the quality of their items, by providing plastic or die-cast parts or even chip board or thicker mats, I do love the one-stop shop, and easy to upload and arrange products.

Their interface makes uploading and arranging images onto mats and cards a breeze, and I've never had a mix up with the design, so far as what I told them I wanted and the items that I actually received.

I know I could do my design on blank cards with no art and rough it out more before I go to print, but they honestly make things so easy that I typically go directly from text to a mock-up of what I want to print, then during play testing I mark up my printed versions with notes that I later transcribe to the final draft.

Despite their large selection of components, I really wish that other component creators would table them to get their items into the Game Crafters store, but this goes a little back to my quality beef.  The components offered are definitely above the basic requirements, but not something that is going to impress gamers that that played with Fantasy Flight (http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/) or other high end game developer's components.

I'm building up a pretty decent collection of proto-type games that if I had more time these would be awesome game design idea generating items, but as it is, I typically go back to Photoshop and re-do entire decks over a coloring issue, rather than using what I have to iron out the game-play mechanics.

As an example of this, I've recently re-did all the graphics for the Dun-Jion game, using The Game Crafters new 5" hex mat, the tiles are now what I'd wanted at the start, and I switched from Shards to the 1.25" tokens with stickers on them for most the other game components, including Room Tokens, Door Tokens, and Monster Pogs.

I typically struggle with what to keep in and what to pull out as far as components that might be required, and what might be better placed in an expansion or simply removed.  This is another reason why my stock pile of components continually grows, as I tend to over create thinking that play-testing will weed them out, and since I've never gone to mass market with any of my designs it doesn't matter if a game costs $15 or $50, when it's a one time purchase of something that I've created, and many of the components could have other uses in future ideas as well.

Below is a list of other component manufactures that have components of high value than Game Crafters, but you'll not only pay more for the components, you'll likely have to shop around as well:


Hopefully you find these handy.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

TableScript

Early February I decided I needed a nice JavaScript project, so I decided to rewrite an old c# application that I had made that was based off of the TableSmith application.  This allows very intricate random tables to be created that can reference sub-tables, which can further reference other tables.

A simple example of this would be a wilderness encounter table where a d8+d12 would be rolled to determine what type of random encounter has occurred.  There might a 10% chance of an encounter that is rolled three times per day, so that may as well be all linked together in the following script:

:Start
1,[PossibleEncounter]
_[PossibleEncounter]
_[PossibleEncounter]

:PossibleEncounter
1-9,No Encounter
10,[RollEncounter={d8+d12}]

:RollEncounter
1-3,[VeryRareEncounter]
4-6,[RareEncounter]
7-8,[UncommonEncounter]
9-12,[CommonEncounter]
13-14,[UncommonEncounter]
15-18,[RareEncounter]
19-20,[VeryRareEncounter]

Where CommonEncounter, UncommonEncounter, RareEncounter, VeryRareEncounter tables would all still need to be defined.  In the above example each roll on the Start table will cause three rolls to occur on the PossibleEncounter table, which in turn only has a 1 in 10 chance of generating an encounter.  In case of an encounter we are overriding the default behavior by passing in the dice that the table should be using, if the {d8+d12} was left off the behavior would simply be to roll 1d20 and use that result.  By overriding this we get a more bell shaped distribution with the common encounters at the center, and the more rare ones on either end.  Notice that even though a 1 is never allowed in our case, we still need to pad the table with it since it always assumes tables begin with 1.

My goal was to recreate this in Javascript, and due to the forgiving nature of the Javascript language I completed the project in about 8 hours, with less than 1/10 of the code I had in C#.  This made me question my C# design with was a bit clunky and somewhat slow considering what it should be doing most of the time.

I realized that my Javascript implementation was less than idea, as every table would have to be retrieved dynamically from the server, which was possible with some Ajax calls, but not only was this slow, it required more plumbing than I wanted the client to have to deal with.  I envisioned an exposed API where a client would call a table and the API would return a fully resolved random answer.

So, I threw away my previous version and used my Javascript version as the template for my new Server-Side version, which took about 3 times the code of the javascript version, but only took another 16 hours to get working.  Then another 16 hours to implement every common TableSmith function and to debug a performance issue.

My TableScript seems to now have all the capabilities of the original TableSmith application and is wired up to a database which stores a library of tables that allow a script to leverage any table within the database.  The tables all have a fully qualified name, which must be used if a table has generic name, but it will attempt to look up a table by its friendly name with a few strategies, which in most cases will find the correct table.

After all this I realized the reason I stopped using TableSmith was not wanting to haul a laptop to the gaming table, but I thought that what I had here would be usable by a simple webpage that a smart phone could access easily from the gaming table, though I still prefer to do my "prepping" in advance, some things such as loot or NPC names or the shop inventory could easily be randomly generated at the table.

I figured the creator of TableSmith might have done something similar to what I'd whipped up in about a week and found these:

Mythosa - TableSmith
http://www.tablesmithonline.com/

Where the KickStarter from last year failed to reach it's funding goal, but seemed to have a decent following, as I know the original TableSmith application did as well.  I also found a few other sites that implemented common TableSmith tables, but essentially re-wrote them in Javascript to generate the results.

The goal is to expose my global tables via an API that is usable by everyone, and those with more ambition can create an account an setup their own tables, written in TableScript that will also be expose via another API.  At this time, I'm debating on keeping these user defined tables private, but only through obfuscation, if a user wants to share a link to some useful tables that they created, then it would be accessible to all with the link.

Also, I've started a dialog with the guy behind the KickStarter, who is open to finishing the frontend demoed on the KickStarter, that would be wired to my backend.  I just need to get my API site hosted someplace, currently looking at Azure as it seems very reasonable...at least in the short term, as I have $150 a month in free MSDN Azure hosting.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hard Core 4E D&D


For my 4E readers, I'm posting this old DM Guideline for what I called "fixing 4E", see what you think.

Rest and Recovery (Revised)

The recovery system in 4th edition DnD is such that you simply can't have a single "All-Out" battle, characters simply can't tap into more than a handful of surges, which means beyond any Daily Powers that they've spent in the battle and a few surges, after a 5 minute rest they are back ready to do this again.  There are few long term effects that linger after a battle is over, and the party returns to full strength too rapidly.  In previous editions this might have been too extreme in the other direction, where even at 10th level you would only recover a d6 Hps in an overnight rest, though complete recovery in a 6 hour (4 hour for many races) rest seems too quick...I realize that the character are heroes  but so were the characters in previous editions, and the fact that a party may have to rest a few days after an epic battle with a dragon didn't seem to blemish their "Hero" status...I 4th Edition a party could do an Epic battle every day for a week or more and never suffering any fatigue after they wake up the following day.

This causes DM's to be creative in ways to simulate an exhausting or difficult journey on the way to a remote dungeon.  For the party there are no Game Effects for marching 3 weeks through a swamp, then up the side of a 10,000 foot cliff to battle a dragon in it's lair, even if every day of the journey involved a number of battles with Ogres, Trolls, or Giants...So long as they survive the encounter and get their extended rest, the next day they are bright-eyed and bushy tailed ready to face the days next encounters.  The DM is reduced  to arbitrary Healing Surge losses, or Endurance checks resulting in more Healing Surge losses or failure to get the effect of the last extended rest, even these penalties may not have any effect on an encounter where a Fighter with 13 Healing Surges, even if they suffered a lose of 7 surges, the 6 they have remaining would be difficult to expend in a single encounter without multiple potions or powers that grant addition surges to be spent.

Addition to little long term effect, the continuous battles that the DM throws at a party might have little long term negative effects, but a weeks journey with semi-difficult encounters every day will surely rocket the party up levels.  The results of this will cause the party to gain multiple levels, in a few days of game time.  So, The party may leave town 3rd level then a week later come back at 5th, only to do a similar feat and maybe two weeks later have already gained an additional two levels.  So, in less than a month of game time they will have gone from battles where goblins would be challenging, to taking down ogres.  That's one hell of an training program...This makes recurring NPC opponents or party foes to have to undergo a similar transformation, and begs the question what was the character doing for the last 18 years, when in the past few months they may have gone from 1st level to 8th.

Hardcore Mode

In comes the solution, by essentially shifting Powers up a level, i.e. making Encounter Powers to Daily Powers and Daily Powers to near Weekly Powers, this can solve many of the issues about recovery time being too fast, as well as slowing level progression (in game time, not play time).  With this "Simple" change the DM now has the option to have multiple encounters that are essentially chained together (no "Short-Rest" between them), and additionally stack more encounters into what would have previously been a day ("Extended-Rest") previously.  Obviously other changes need to happen in game terms to make this game mechanics game, these will all be addressed below.

Healing and Healing Surges

Healing Surges are viewed as sort of a global currency for characters stamina and health, so in addition to being able to spend these for healing a character can spend a Healing Surge as a mechanism to recharge Encounter Powers, or two Healing Surges to recharge a Daily Power.  Also, In core 4e rules, every character can spend as many healing surges as they want in the 5 minute Short-Rest that follows an encounter.  In Hardcore, Healing Surges can be spent at the rate of one per hour, outside of those granted by using 2nd Wind or character Powers.
The recharging of powers can only be done in the period between encounters, i.e. if a Cleric uses Healing Word on your character, you can not use the granted expenditure of a Healing Surge to recharge an Encounter Power.  However, continually recharging powers this way (outside of a Short-Rest) will severely limit a characters healing potential, since Healing Surges are only replenished upon the completion of an Extended-Rest.  Note, that once a Healing Surge is spent to recharge a Power, it can not be regained even if the Party continues on to get an Short-Rest.

Short-Rest (Redefined)

By increasing a "Short-Rest" to a 6 hour period, it is instantly apparent that most adventures, especially the Dungeon Crawl type, have developed encounters assuming that the Party is coming into these with all there other Encounter Powers.  In Hardcore Mode, it's as if the party is running from battle to battle with no rest between them, which they essentially will be, since there is no benefit to resting until they can get a 6 hour block of time in order to recover their Encounter Powers.
Simply running a typical 4e Adventure in Hardcore Mode would inevitably result the death of the part (a.k.a...Total Party Kill, TPK).  Players used to Hardcore mode will be more conservative with their powers, so they may not use them when they could have ended a battle early thinking it best to save them, which could lead to them taking additional damage, or players not used to Hardcore may expend their powers too recklessly resulting in not having any special powers in later encounters.    Ultimately the DM will need to alter the adventure continuity, think more like earlier editions of DnD or Pathfinder, smaller more frequent battles.
Often, adventures are geared to Min-Maxed characters, so they often include nearly every Encounter being the party level or up to 3 levels higher.  Encounters are most often adjusted by the DM by removing combatants from the opponents side to adjust the encounter level to 1 or 2 level beneath the party level.  Remember in Hardcore, every battle is relevant  even one goblin jumping out firing an arrow that does 5 damage, is 5 damage that the character will have going into the next battle, so while getting used to Hardcore, its better to err on the "Too Easy" side than "Too Hard".  If encounters are simply not being as effective as the DM planned, then this can be easily rectified by maybe not reducing the next encounter by as much.
Since the incentive to rest is largely taken away from the party, and battles are smaller and easier  the party can do more with their At-Will powers, and will need to be smart about their Encounter and Daily Powers and use them when "good enough" situation comes up to attempt to maximize their effectiveness, such to ultimately end battles sooner, thus reducing the damage that the party will carry into the next encounter.

Extended-Rest (Redefined)

If Short-Rest is 6 hours then what happens to the Extended-Rest?  Well, this is redefined as the Party's "Weekend Off", so only after 48 hours of rest does te Party recover their Daily Powers.  This may seem a bit unfair, especially to the players, but this ultimately has little bearing on game play for most typical adventures.  This being most are designed as a single shot from a Party's perspective, they know its going to be done without an Extended-Rest so the Party is typically conservative on their Daily Powers anyway.  So, if they go out complete 3 to 5 (typical crawl) then come back to town and rest it's doesn't matter how long they stay and wait for the next adventure to fall in their lap, or if the adventure is designed such that there is an extended rest in the middle, then it doesn't really matter if its one nights rest or two...if the Party has time to take a break, then they have time to take a break.
What this redefinition allows for is a much more flexible adventure design scenario.  Rather than skipping the journey (or doing this as a skill challenge) and then ending with a 2 to 4 Encounter crawl ending with the climatic "Boss Battle".  The DM can now integrate the journey as part of the adventures encounters.  A skill challenge can still be used, but success or failure along the way could determine which encounters they face before arriving at the dungeon site.  Then the Dungeon could essentially be much more exploitation  with maybe 2 or 3 encounters, or even just a single climatic battle.
Typically, a "Boss Battle" is required to be at least 2 levels higher than the party, and if the party is full power (All Daily Powers and some potions) they can win battles up to 5 levels higher if well played.  In Hardcore, even having two minor battles before the "Boss" would make an encounter of the Party's level be difficult.
The effects from battle to battle and day to day are not so easily wiped away by a rest that it takes less of an encounter to have an effect and little artificial urgency tactics need to be applied to the Party.  While running core 4e adventures as the DM I found the need to always have to create a sense of urgency, as if I didn't the Party always wanted to extended rest, nearly after each battle.  This required more work on the story lines as a DM, and always interrupting their rest attempts.  In Hardcore, there is no need for create these "hurry-up" story lines, since the Party realizes that them getting a 6 hour rest, or a 48 hour rest may not be likely, so they tend to hurry up themselves, as the less time they are out in the wilds the less encounters that they will face, and since every encounter has lasting effects, they are self motivated to hurry.

Player Complaints..."All I can do is At-Wills...I guess I'll At-Will, again"

When a DM decides to run a campaign in Hardcore mode, the common complaint for players is "All they get to do now is use At-Will Powers".  However, to help alleviate this argument, i.e. stop the whining, to allow all non-level based Encounter Powers to return every encounter, triggered on Initiative being rolled.  These would include the Class Features that are Encounter Powers as well as Racial Powers and the initial bonus Theme Encounter Power.  This still restricts the use of all higher level powers, but provides Class and Race feeling to the character, so that these typically stronger abilities are the most often used by the characters.  Note, this typically includes the returning of 2nd Wind to characters as well each encounter, as this is a non-level based Encounter Power.
In this model DMs that have when out of their way to break an Adventure into may small encounters may want to chain these battles together, as the triggering mechanism for restoring the non-level based encounters is the rolling on initiative.  So to avoid this creatures from the next area could hear the battle or be warned via an alert of the near-by battle and come to join in.  Doing so the new arrivals would roll initiative when they enter the fray, but the party keeps their current initiative, thus not re-gaining any used powers.


Action Token

Characters still begin following every Extended Rest with a single Action Token, even if they previously had accumulated more.  As per Core 4e rules Action Tokens can be spent to gain a character an extra Standard Action during an encounter (only once per encounter by characters).  Upon achieving a Milestone or other event that would have traditionally awarded the character an Action Token, the character can alternately instantly recharge an Encounter Power that is currently exhausted or even recharge one Healing Surge to the character.
The ability to recharge Healing Surges in this fashion can be used by a DM on a particularly difficult Dungeon Crawl or when the character have a long time in between Extended Rests could really aid in the Party's survivability.  Adventure Milestone, with Action Token rewards is a good way to give the characters a little surge, and it's often easier to give these out then some of the other rewards listed below.
Characters will however need to get used to the fact that they used to get these every Milestone, which was every 2 to 3 Encounters (my experience told me that the characters expect to earn these every-time after only two).  However, in Hardcore Mode, a Milestone is typically achieved after a given amount of Experience Points have been earned, typically 2 x (Level plus one) XP worth of smaller encounters, or upon reaching a given place/point in the adventure.  If XPs are used as the guideline  then this may not be for many encounters, like three to six depending on how small the DM is chunking them out, so get used to saying, "No you didn't reach a Milestone yet."

Hardcore Rewards

With the above changes to the recovery system there are additional items and rewards that a DM can offer the players, when dungeon crawls need to be played more like regular rules and you don't want to drastically alter encounters to more suit hardcore you can hand out the following rewards to the party, which will allow them the ability to more from difficult encounter directly into another difficult encounter.  The reward are listed below:

Action Token: When the party completes a Milestone award them with an Action Token.  For Core 4e rules this is recommended after 2 or 3 encounters, but in Hardcore Mode this is typically 3 to 5 encounters ( 2 x Lv+1 Encounters), as the Hardcore encounters are more in number, but each are easier that Core 4e.  Milestones are most often Minor Quest completions, half-way points or other points designed into the adventure about where the Party may be needing some recovery.

Combat Rally: There's a definite break in a major battle, the leader is bloodied, the boss enters the room, another wave of opponents joins the fray, a trap is disarmed, or activate...What ever it is, the party should feel a definite pause in the combat as the favor pendulum swings more to one side or the other for the given insistent.  This should include a "Box'd Text" description of the event with some dramatic flare, the game effect is that the character feel a renewed sense of hope, or call upon there heroic nature to rise to the challenge.  All party members gain an Action Token (and the ability to spend it during this encounter, even if they already have spent one), or they can immediately cash this in to recharge any Encounter Power, including 2nd Wind, or even replenish a Healing Surge as described up Action Token rules above.

Mana Potions / Mana Effects: These magical elixirs can be sprinkled around a long dungeon crawl as a mechanism to recover Encounter Powers and avoid having to do an extended rest.  Rather than actual vials that the Party can carry around to use at their whim, this can be some ancient one time beneficial effect triggered by some Characters skill check.  When used this way it's common to be a zone effect, such close burst 5 from the idol the rogue was messing with, the effects could just as easily be a trap, so party members will need to decide how close they want to be when the rogue begins fumbling with mechanism, or the wizard attempts to activate a glyph.

Potions of Vigor / Stamina Effects: These potions recover spent Healing Surges, which can be spent immediately to Heal or recharge an Encounter Power.  As mentioned under Mana Potions, a Potion of Vigor is a significant find, and runs the risk of being held onto when you think the party should consume it now.  Plus, a potion is only helpful to the one that consumes it, where a Vigor Effect will hit multiple persons in the party, even if the effect is a magical fountain (only water drank immediately from th fountain grants the reward).