Friday, August 26, 2011

Character creation

Some questions have come in about the classless nature and how a character is created and evolves; so I'll briefly describe this process.  I apologize in advanced to my color-blind friends (so I symbol code as well), but I think the color-coding really helps in getting the point across, so I use it all over in the core rules.

Like I said before, I have Five main attributes, Dexterity, Strength, Endurance, Intellect and Focus, these are given the following colors, respectively: Black, Red, Green, White, and Blue.  Shown to the left.

Most of the sample builds that I'll show, spends enough creation points to earn 6 attribute points.  These are normally assigned to the core attributes 0, 1, 1, 1, 2 or 0, 0, 0, 2, 2.  Assigning a 1 to an Attribute costs 1, but assigning a 2 costs 3 (1 + 2).  Nearly all costs in the game follow this cumulative cost scale.  So a 3 would cost 6 (1 + 2 + 3).

For this example I'm going to create a Hunter, many people love the Archer/Swordsman combination, so I'd guess it would be a popular character type in this game system as well.  So for this type I'd go with the 0, 1, 1, 1, 2 array, placing the 0 in Intellect, the 2 in Focus and the 1's in the remaining 3 Attributes.  With this placement the character's Attrills (Attribute/Skills) look like the diagram to the right after spending the Attribute points.  The Attrill have the corresponding color as their dependent Attributes (using the rainbow spectrum).  Attrills have the base value equal to the sum of the Attributes they are next to (i.e. Reflex = 3 because Dexterity=1 + Focus=2, Awareness = 2 because Intellect=0 + Focus=2).

Now these can improved by spending more Creations Points (CP) in the following areas, on Background Gateways, Racial Gateways, or simply on Improvement Gateways available to all character.  Most the sample builds will a lot a given amount of CPs to allow 12 to 15 points of improvement that can be spent on either Attributes or Attrills.  No longer do Attrills increase as their parent Attributes increase, this is only to determine their base value.  Once attribute points are spent Attrills must be increased independent of Attributes.

You may wonder why there are ranges on these improvement points between builds, the answer is everything is really coming out of an underlying Creation Point pool, in this example I just break the CPs allocated to each independent area of the overall character build process.  Different build templates will spend slightly differently in various areas.  The sample build templates, like the Hunter are just to give players an idea of how they may create characters that are skilled in different areas, that they may use as sort of a "quick start" guy or as an example to begin creating their own hybrid builds, or completely custom character builds.

The sample Hunter build uses 13 improvement points increase their Attributes/Attrills, collectively referred to as Ability Scores.  These 13 improvement points are distributed by increasing Strength, Dexterity, Coordination, Power, Awareness, Will, and Reflex by 1, and increasing Endurance and Focus by 2; remember that each increase of 2 costs 3 improvement points (1 + 2).  If a player wanted to increase something by 3 points the cost would be 6 (1 + 2 + 3).

At this stage the Hunter would look like the diagram below:

Open Gateways, being a d20 based game uses the above Ability Score as the base die modifiers for most of the game mechanics.  Other d20 systems use a mapping between an attribute score and a die modifier, such as an 18 would map to a +4.  In Open Gateway Attributes are only recorded as the die roll modifier.

These Ability Scores are the base values of every skill that depends on them (skills will be color and symbol coded for quick mapping to Ability Scores).  Each dependent skill can also be increased separately as well by increasing the parent Ability Score.

If your math skills are sufficient, you can see how spending points earlier in the creation process has a wide reaching effect on the dependent skills later on.  Also for Atrills, you can gain benefits more cheaply by increasing the Attributes on either side equally.  Example: A Hunter desires high Awareness, so starting with a Intellect=2 and Focus=1, which cost a total of 4 attribute points, is cheaper than having an Intellect=3 and Focus=3, which costs 6  attribute points.  Both of these would grant the same score to Awareness, which would be a 3.

Spending points earlier is also more expensive, because of the longer reaching effects, but there are still CP cost savings in doing so, if you have a lot of dependent skills down the road.  There are plenty more things to spend creation points on as well, so you don't want to spend too many on your characters Attributes, especially because the cumulative cost, getting a single Attribute to a 4 (1+2+3+4) exhausts a large amount to starting CPs .

The image below show the Hunter sample template after all of their improvement points have been spent, though keep in mind that there are still over a dozen skills and other background, racial, abilities and powers that can be learned and improved even when you go with a standard template.

The color coding of dependent skills and abilities help demonstration what Ability Scores increase various abilities on the record sheet.  Health can be seen by its coloring to be dependent on Strength, Power and Endurance (Red, Yellow, Green) and can be seen to require Focus and Intellect (Blue and White).  Various dependent skills and abilities are like-wise color and symbol coded in the rules to quickly help players determine if its something that they would be good at or should consider maybe learning something else.

The Hunter character's strengths are Ranged attacks, followed by Melee Attacks (Can be seen by these having the highest to-hit and damage modifiers out of all the characters attacks), but they still need equipment.  Also a direction needs to be chosen.  Since weapon skills are no longer linked to a character role, these too have to be chosen at creation, but can also be learned at a later time to become more of a traditional multi-class character.  The sample template provided are complete, ready to play characters, but more advanced players can use these as guides, stopping at any point along the creation process to finish them on their own, or even start completely from scratch.

The Hunter provided is more the traditional Ranger style, but another more advanced similar character is the Archer/Alchemist.  This build would trade the melee strength for some very interesting arcane powers and concoctions to increase the effectiveness of their arrows.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Incremental Leveling in standard 4th Ed. D&D

Well, GenCon was awesome!  I've been playing RPGs now for 30 years, and this was great.  I appreciate the few people that folks that recognized me from KickStarter and stopped me to say "Hi!", and discuss the rules and/or campaign, it was fun being recognized even if it only happened a handful of times.

I also had a great time talking with my fellow software designers in the exhibit hall, even though some didn't want to get down to the nuts and bolts level of their applications.  The artists that I talked with too were great, and really seemed to be eager to work with me on my project.  I found for sure three that I really hit it off with, and had a lot of art samples with the style that I'm looking for.

I tried to be brief in most cases as I know they have to tolerate a lot, people love to talk about their 50th level triple class character that goes around hunting deities, or every character they ever played for that matter.

Many people I spoke to at GenCon were interested in one of the stepping stones that I came to on the journey to my new class-less rules, this was the breaking down of the experience point system to a more flexible point-buy system.

Essentially, what I did was to do was ask "What do characters gain for the 1,000xp that they spend from leveling from 1st to 2nd?", then mathematically break down what is gained for each ability that is gained.  Then repeat this for every level from 1st to 30th level.  The resulting math is surprising simple and very mathematically accurate, typically within +/- 5% of what the players handbook states.

On top of this, it looks like if a character always learns the next ability that is the least expensive, then they will progress just like the PHB states.  The major difference is that the characters change a lot more frequently (but probably not more than once a night, it may be annoying/time-wasting if after every encounter the players gain new abilities that they must decide on).

Using this fractional level system, not only allows partial level progression between nearly every game session, but characters can now improve in different areas.  They can forego gaining hit points, skill adjustments, and defensive bonuses to gain another power or feat.  Or, they may not like any of their 5th level Daily choices or 6th Utility Powers, and chose to go directly to their 7th level Encounter Power.  Or even, be happy with their characters powers and go directly after hit points and defenses.

The cost of these have been broken down in a PDF that I'm creating that will be available soon for those that have contributed to my KickStarter (in any amount).  I have it complete in a form that I've given to my players in a campaign about a year ago, but just want to pretty it up for a wider distribution, and to be sure the explanations are all contained in the document.

This will also serve as sort of a sneak preview to the expanded system that I'm created from my rules, as the one that I'll be sending out is designed to be used as an alternate to the 4E xp system, but assumes all powers and feats gained follow the 4E rules (i.e. Avengers must stick to Avenger Powers, or to multiclass characters follow the same mechanism as they would in the traditional 4E system).

In the Open Gateway rules, the classes and races themselves have been modularized, and players can mix and match these is a much more flexible manner.  To create exactly the characters that they wish to play.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hear me out...Mana Pools!...I know right?

A significant change to game mechanics that is also being introduced that greatly affects combat, power use and actions is the concept of a personal energy pool, I call this your characters mana pool.  The introduction of this is a complexity, but the pools are fairly low numbers and honestly its no more complex than tracking which powers have been used, and its really not much different than the psionic Power Points already being used by some classes.

The Mana Pool idea is commonly used in many games as a means of tracking a characters inner power reserves, some games call this stamina or fatigue, but Mana is the term I prefer.  Unifying all characters under the same tracking mechanism was a must for a universal system, and it has other advantages too.  Now, characters can use the same encounter powers multiple times, they only need to have the Mana to do so, same holds true for Daily powers.  They simply cost more to use.

Also, having a single source of tracking character reserves also allows more general abilities to be given a Mana point value as well, so gaining an extra minor action in combat simply costs Mana, as does using a Move action for a Minor action slot.

This allows greater flexibily in combat, where a character could take a Move/Move/Standard by converting their minor action to a Move for 2 Mana, or could take a Minor/Standard/Stanard by converting their Move action to a Standard for 3 Mana, or even perform a Minor/Move/Standard/Minor be converting a Minor to a Free Action for 1 Mana.  This added greater flexibility than the Action Point system, and players can be more creative with their combinations.  

GM's can put rules in place to govern the use of how many Mana may be spent in a round.  These should only be put in place when the group is seeing imbalance in the Mana pool uses by a Character charging into an encounter and continually dumping all their Mana on their first action.  Personally in play-testing I didn't see this behavior.  Players typically would use their Mana conservatively and most often finish the battle with Mana to spare, or purposefully held in reserve for a get away or major power to be used.

Plus, this adds a completely new element to game mechanics where before everything had classified as an At-Will, Encounter, or Daily, or there were the occassional effects that had the added cost of a Healing Surge.  Now balance between various effects can be tweeked, if a typical Encounter Power costs 2 Mana, and a Daily power costs 6 Mana, then powers that are seen as "more powerful" or "less powerful" can be adjusted.  A more powerful Encounter Power may cost 3 Mana, or a less powerful Daily could cost 4 Mana.

On top of this Mana Recovery becomes key, items such as Mana Rings could be warn to supplement a characters reserves for those particularily demanding battles, or Mana Potions like those found in our favorite computer games.  Rather then an Action Token for a milestone, a bonus 5 Mana could be given (the cost of a additional Standard Action), to be spent by the player as they see fit.

In addition to these items to allow Mana to be recovered faster there could be "Dampening Zone" that reduce Mana recovery to half or a quarter its regular rate, or complete "Dead Zones" that prevent any recovery at all, or the "Energy Zones" that boost the rate of recovery.  Rather than entire area of the realm with these zones the adventure could crafted such that it's largely dampened recovery, but one room has an boosting effect, or individual items, statues or fountains that give a one time boost.  These could all be used as a scaling effect for a GM to set the pace of a dungeon crawl.  Longer crawls may have boosting effects/items around to allow the party to go more without needing to rest, where shorter adventures can have dampening or Mana draining effects that make each Mana spent/lost critical.

I'm working on this chapter of the Core Rules now, and it seems to be coming to gather nicely.  A few more rounds of play-testing are required to finalize it.

Detailed rules hamper Role-Playing

After my last 4E D&D game in which I'm a player (Blackthorne, an 8th level Human Hunter), most of the group hung around to just BS about things.  During this post-game chat I realized that knowing the rules too well really cramps my role-playing in 4E.  When I know that doing a given action is going to provoke an AOO;  I may do the action anyway, if I feel my character would risk it...but the meta-gaming still comes into play.  Or if I know I won't get any combat advantage because I can't get into flanking, as it's written in the rules, so I'll just take the convinent spot rather than getting close and arguing with the DM about the opponent not really aware of me there or the fact that I'm still attacking his flank, but I noticed some of the newer players "try" various actions simply "for fun", where I tend to be more mechanical.

Durring this chat I realized that the core 4E rules more often than not, spells things out rules so clearly that for combat you almost don't need a DM, you could nearly always "logic" out who a given creature would attack, and cover and combat advantage and all other situations are so detailed that the definitions seldom leave questions as to how the rules apply. 

I know as a early 4E DM, I was very frustrated by this as I felt like the rules were constantly tying my hands, and the rules lawyer players were almost running the game (I did say "almost").  So, I opt'd out of DMing for a while, until I finally came to my senses and decided to say "I don't care how the Power is written, that just isn't going to fly here".

These detailed rules, and the specific overrides really seems the heart of 4E's problems, I mean in war games like Ravenloft or WH 40K, there is no GM so it's a short debate between how to rule a given situation even when they are playing a "Me vs Them" game.  I realized if the 4E rules were more vague, I would try more role-playing type actions and have to trust the DM to be fair about the actual game effect.

So, as means to encourage role playing in combat, Open Gateways is designed to have a sufficently vague modifier for actions, with some guidelines for players and GMs to follow, but not spell out the details of every action with it's combat effect.

In addition to the vague guidelines, I really like the idea of a single AOO per round; rather than one per creature (it is possible to increase this by Feats like Combat Reflexes).  This way leaving a threatened space does not always guarentee that the creature would take the attack, intelligent creatures may save the AOO for a specific creature, or combat savy creatures could provoke the AOO with the member of the group with the best defenses, allowing others to move at their whim...possibly avoiding the possible candidates that may possess Combat Reflexes.

Combining the single AOO per round with more actions that provoke an AOO, like standing up from prone, or drinking a potion, with more role-playing for minor combat adjustments would bring more feeling (and excitement) of the previous editions back to the game.

I hear responses to this like "A good DM will simply adapt the rules to the situation", but I feel like I've seen every new DM in 4E make the same mistake, and I've played many GameDay and Enounters at stores in my area and see DMs making these same mistakes as I did.  Which is why I feel the need to call this out as an issue...I think exhaustive rules have their place in a board game, but not in an RPG.

So, in OG I'm encouraging GMs to make a call, players can argue it offline and groups can set up House-Rules to govern situations.  I for one, enjoyed these debates when they occurred and I find that the more vague the rules are the less likely a Rules Lawyer will attempt an argument, as the golden rule is "The Game-Master is always correct"...That said, some GMs are just a-holes so players need to speak with their feet in those cases.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Super-Daily" Powers

In 4th ed. it's been a while since I played a Wizard, but after a recent session where the "Arcanist" was complaining, amongst other things about the change of the name from Wizard to Arcanist, their insight in the what was wrong with the Wizard caused me to dwell on some of the deeper issues in 4th Ed. D&D.

We've all heard the complaints about how "Every class is the same", especially from the non-4E gamers that we know, and to some extent these are very true.  One class may have a Str vs AC power that deals [W]+Str and immobilized or knocks target prone, while another one will have a Dex ve Reflex that has the exact same game effect, but different flavor text.

This is the biggest complaint I heard from the 3.5/Pathfinder crowd about 4E classes.  They really liked the vast differences in each class, with its strengths and weaknesses.  In 4E the game tried to give these distinctions by the Role of the characters, Leaders vs Strikers and Defenders vs Controllers, which seemed a great way to distinguish what the strength and weaknesses were...but now after so many power books have been released the lines are blurred greatly from the classes original intent.

Good for the players, that want a Striker/Controller or some other combination role.  Though, I think this speaks directly to what I'me trying to do in Open Gateways, I think die hards can argue what-ever side of this that they want.  What I think players really want is the customization factor to make the character that they want.

Taking this back to the original point, the Wizard of previous editions was largely a one-trick pony.  Give me a larger group of weaker baddies and I'll hit them with my Sleep spell, or Fireball as it struck my fancy...but when the wizards acted it had a huge impact on the direction of the battle.

This ability came with the penalty of not being able to act very many times before they required rest.  People that played Wizards in previous editions really dislike the equallizing that has been done in traditional 4E.

I'm dealing with this by the addition of effectively creating "Super-Daily" powers, that allow various paths to spend their daily, and effectively tap a second Daily to gain a times two benefit on the first one.

On top of this, their needs to be a broader range of their abilities, which I'm handling by having a class of rituals that can be "snap-casted" by trading in a Daily power of equal level.  There is another category or Rituals that can be pre-cast that work effectively by trading in an encounter power of equal level as the ritual to produce the effect.

This returns the functionality to Rituals like Silence, or even Anti-Venom could be reworked to do this.  I'm essentially going through my favor spells from all the other games I've played and categorizing them as candidates for Powers (At-Will, Encounter, Daily, or Super-Daily) or as Ceremonies (standard Ritual type, possibly with the ability to be snap-casted or triggered).

These simple changes gives players of the traditional "Wizard" class the old-school functionality that they once possessed, and giving them a more significant/specific role in a party than the other controllers.  Mass groups of creatures will howl in fear when they hear a Wizard shout "Fireball" from the back of the party, a (4d6+Int)x2 is after all, pretty close to a 10d6 fireball of the early days.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A brief history on Open Gateways

I haven't given up on creating my own site, but being a bit of a perfectionist in this area, creating my own site is taking a bit longer than I'd hoped.  Though I have a lot of ideas and things to say about the game system and campaign setting in general, so I'll be using this as more of a place to throw things out as to where I'm at, or answers questions about things that seem relevant.

First off, this blog is in regards to my effort, Open Gateways (where 4E means "For Everyone"). That will help fund the Kraterra Campaign Setting and the Core Rules for the game.

To the left is the campaign map for Kraterra, the land of the crater.  The continent is somewhat a Pangaea, so the image below has probably around 4 million square miles of terrain to explore.

The game system began about 13 years ago, when I was between groups, but had previously been playing mostly 2nd edition AD&D.  My goal was to take the classes and levels out of the game to make it more easier to customize the abilities that a player would want to give their character.

A player would have full control over their character, and I wouldn't have to arbitrarily save things like "Wizards can't wear armor" or "That item is only usable by Paladins", those are just some of the things that frustrated me, and just begged debate when the obvious answer was simply game balance, but I thought I could balance it in other ways such at these arbitrary rules did not have to be called out.

So the system progressed and eventually 3rd and 3.5 came out and I incorporated the best ideas of these into the "engine" of this system that I was calling Pathways at the time.  Then the schism of Pathfinder and 4th edition D&D occurred and I moved more toward the "Gateway" name, being that Pathways was close to Pathfinder.

At this time most of the game system was done on the d20 version of the game, which was the system that everyone seemed to be playing.  Once 4E came out, I realized that but I did like the segmentation they did for the classes and powers, which I had in my system at the time calling these Talents.  WotC also did a decent job balancing the classes (probably too good, as a lot of them felt like they were the same as the others).  What this did give was a way to break done the math behind the levels to come up with a relative cost for every improvement that a character was gaining.  This gave me an open system to begin to apply to my campaigns the ran under the 4E system.

It wasn't until I was going to publish my Kraterra Campaign Setting under the Wizards 4E GSL that I realized I needed my own game system, as I could not simply let them have the type of control that the GSL states.  It was at this time when I realized that combining my Gateway system with the math I took from the 4E system gave the best of all the previous editions in one system, though I needed to choose which to be more compatible with.

It was at this point where I went with the 4E system as the one to closer align with.  Honestly mainly because I felt it was better at its heart then the previous ones.  By this I simply mean that earlier editions had a sweet spot of 3rd level to 9th level, in this range you lived as a "Hero", not a peasant or thug as you did in the 1st and 2nd level range, and not a demigod as you did in the 10th plus range.

I felt like 4E took what was 3rd level and called it 1st level, then rather than each level being some monumental change as it was in the previous editions, each level was now 1/3 or 1/4 of what a level used to be.  So essentially, I felt like it took the 2nd edition AD&D level range of 3rd to 13th, and spread this over a 30 level range, and it did the same with the monsters, giving the DM an easy system to balance encounters and deal out xp on top of this.

So, that is why I aligned to 4E, but my tagline of 'Where 4E is "For Everyone"' attempts to portray the message to the Pathfinder folks that being 4E compatible does not mean that it's the same as WotC traditional 4th ed. D&D that they have heard about, and likely bitched about.

On top of this, Open Gateways is an Open system, I don't want any royalties for people using it for their own campaign modules, etc.  I simply want a game vocabulary that gamers can use share information, without worrying about trademarks and licensing.  I still need to craft the licensing agreement, but it will be closer to that of the Open d20 system.

In this blog I'll go over in detail about the things I've "fixed" and the things I'm simply leaving alone, but I hope when its finally shared in published form, most will appreciate the work that I've done.