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).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Campaign Web

The following uses the previous Quest Structure blog post, to define an entire campaign, in a structure that I call a campaign web.

A campaign is created by creating an Epic Arc that has a common thread that progresses through a number of story arcs.  Typically the Campaign is geared to last 10 to 15 sessions of play, with the idea of each session overcoming 3 to 5 encounters (in a 4E setting).  Typically assume the party will exhaust 60% to 80% of possible Campaign encounters, the remaining encounters can often be salvaged in some form to be used in later story arcs (or future campaigns) with some modifications.


Here is an example Campaign web that has woven 7 minor Quests with a Major Quest for a 14 session, 60 Encounter campaign web.

S01: q1I, q1P, q1D, q2I, q3I, <Rest>
*S02: q1S, q1C, q1R, <Rest>, q2D, q2S
 S03: q2F, q2P, q2F, q2C, <Rest>
 S04: q2R, Q1I, q3P, Q1D
*S05: q3S, <Rest>, q3F, q3W, q3D
S06: q3C, q3E, q3R, q4I, <Rest>
S07: Q1P, q4P, q4S, q4D, <Rest>
S08: q4W, q4C, q4E, q4R, <Rest>
*S09: q5I, q6I, q5D, q5P, q5S
*S10: q6P, q6D, <Rest>, q5W, q5D
S11: q5C, q5E, q5R, <Rest>, q7I
S12: Q1S, Q1F, q6C, q6E, q6R, <Rest>
S13: q7D, q7S, q7C, q7R, <Rest>
S14: Q1F, Q1W, Q1C, Q1R, <Rest>

Total Encounters 60

Introductions have been bold, story arc climaxes have been highlight in red, and the rewards are shown in gold.  The <Rest> designates a long enough break for the party to typically recover and be at full strength afterwards.  When possible sessions should be ended with and Rests, to minimize the tracking from one session to the next.  This is not always the case, especially if the scenario is designed to be a grueling delve.  The "*" sessions above are ones that do not end in a rest, thus extra tacking needs to be done on these sessions to insure that the party is at the correct health and combat preparedness for the next session.

You can see in the above campaign web that the first session is largely a story telling one, where the party gets introduced to three separate hooks that they could possibly act on any order, or maybe the DM pushes them into a predefined order.  The "Introductory" encounters are typically non-life threatening by design, and are there to drive the story.  Note that the overall campaign arc doesn't even begin until session four, at least formally, though its entirely possible that the party has been dropped some clues that make the formal hook fairly obvious, and possibly even driven by the party's desire to speak to a particular NPC.

The campaign web above was designed as a 4E campaign, where you typically get 3 to 5 encounters before the party will need to rest.  For other game systems a session could easily have twice as many encounters, I'll get into the design of these in another post where the campaign definitely becomes more web-like in appearance.

By classifying encounters in this format the DM can easily see the parties progression toward the goal, or really what the intent of the encounter is.  Thus, if you have the encounter flagged as "Filler" and the party is taking substantial damage then you may want to adjust the opponents on the fly to making the next hit make them bloodied, or if a "Weakening" encounter is handled way too easily, then before they get a 2nd wind you may want to add another group that were arrive later to the melee.

Plus, it's also nice when prepping which encounters are truly optional, and which are critical.  It will be next to impossible to prep an entire campaign out in the form above without completely steering the party into the direction you as the DM want them to go, but if you think the story plays best in a given order having it outlined such as this will give you a direction to push the players into when they seem lost.

Additionally, when providing a quest introduction or hook these should be done toward the end of a session.  This allows the party to make the choice ahead of time, and cuts down on the time it takes to the DM to "Prep" for next session.  When Hooks with multiple paths are given at the beginning of a session or in the middle the DM might have to prep all the encounters that the party may pursue, unless some "Delay" encounters are prepped to make the party's desired choice irrelevant, at least until the end of the session when the DM can finally prep all of the encounters down the path the party has chosen.  This may give the feeling of more of a free-will campaign, but requires significant more work by the DM to pull off something like this.

Tracking campaigns in this notation can provide the DM with possible clues on when they might "drop a clue" for another story arc, or when they may need to prep a delay encounter, or when they might have enough strength left in them to prep and Extension encounter.

Non-Linear campaigns provide multiple Introductions toward the beginning of the campaign, which include multiple completely optional quests.  These are more for groups that contain advanced DMs and advanced players, as the element of free will and having to make choices that matter may not come easily to all players.  Some groups like the linear campaign where each encounter lead perfectly into the next, with minimal thought of where do we go now.

Quest Structure

I wrote the following years ago when I was playing a lot of 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons to provide a framework for a DM to construct their own story arc.  Now those familiar with 4E know that the game has a semi rigid structure designed to weaken the party just enough to keep the adventure challenging by balancing encounter powers, daily powers and healing surges.

I recently stumbled across it and derided to just get it out there for people that are playing 4E, and I plan to rewrite it in a more generic sense that would lend itself more for a Pathfinder, One ring or any other gaming system.

The format is already fairly generic, but the idea of the Skill Challenge and Extended Rest are where the 4E specific terminology come in.  When I re-write it I plan on leveraging most of the work that I'm posting here.

Main Path (IPSCR)

Primary Hook/Introduction (I)
This may be as simple as someone approaches the party with an offer, the stumble into a situation as something is about to happen, or is in progress, this could even be a rumor that the party has to initiate encounter, or do reasearch/Information-gathering to determine the next steps...May or may not be a melee type encounter.

Progression (P)
The progression typically involves a combat encounter where the party gets the assurance that they are on the right path to the goal.  This may be an assault instiagated by the party, or an ambush by the opponent, in either case the party gets the impression that they are on the right path.  Often afterward the rewards of the encounter includes clues to where to head that leads toward the Goal.

Skill Challenge (S)
This is more of a Role-Playing encounter, which may include a combat element interwoven into the encounter.  In the case of a combined Challenge/Melee characters often have to choose whether they are going to attack the opponents or to make a check vs the challenge.  If this is more or the plain skill challenge then each character states their actions before the tests are made to determine the success of the rounds actions.  After a given number of successes or failures then the effect of the challenge is revealed.

Climax/Boss (C)
The Boss battle, this is often a solo or elite creature or groups that must be overcome in melee to complete the Quest and achieve the goal of the Quest.  Occasionally the Quest Goal is an item where the true completion of the quest (and Quest XP bonus) is not gained until the item is brought to a given location or returned to a given NPC,

Reward (R)
Occasionally this is combined with the Climax, where the boss is about to do something that the party prevents and gains the reward at this time.  However, more often the Reward is attained only after an item taken from the climax is brought to someone or someplace.

The actual Reward encounter is often done as story telling epilogue..."After the battle you return the item to the Duke and all becomes right once again in the realm".

The Reward could just as easily include a skill challenge or additional Melee, if this includes not story telling elements the penalty for failure should not prevent the Quest XP, though it could have repercussions on other future encounters.  These extra challenges may alter the Quest bonus, or delay the characters gaining the xp until the next session.

Optional Paths
These encounters can occur before or after any of the four basic encounters of a quest path, described above.

Minor Quest Path (M)
Much like the introduction above this provides an introduction to an optional path that is not critical to the main quest completion, but may provide extra information, other items, treasure, or simply a distraction.

Alternately this may in fact be another Primary Hook to an additional Major Quest, which allows a more complex story arc of interwoven encounters.

A secondary Path may be as short as two encounters, and Introduction and Climax, but in the case of an Addition Major Quest it may spawn another chain of 3 to 8 encounters.

Informative/Story Telling (I)
This is really an information relaying encounter from the DM, these can often contain an interaction with an NPC that may or may not contain Insight or Diplomacy, or other checks much like a skill challenge, but there really is no "Failure" scenario in a Informative encounter.  If Checks are rolled they may simply improve the quality of the information, or provide an additional piece.

These work well in cases where the party just arrives at a new location, or to provide multiple day summary of events that have occurred  like when the play has a two week overland trek.  The DM may throw in an Informative encounter that quickly moves the party through the first 10 days of the journey where no much has occurred.

Thus, these are normally prequels to other encounters either leading right into them or in the case of a town, you may have a number of Informative encounters, including the Initial arrival into the town, though the Skill Challenge encounter may not occur until after the party says "Lets go ask the Bar-tender".

Not every information exchange is called out explicitly in the Campaign Web/Outline, since every encounter has some type of information exchange in the setup phase.  Only the "arrival at Town" or the "Time Passes" type encounters are typically actually called out as Informative encounters in the Campaign Web.

Filler (F)
This type of encounter is similar to the Progression encounter above, but is designed to simply extend the length of the quest and provide an additional encounter as the party moves toward the quest goal.  These can be often dispatched/Overcome with relative ease, where the result is minimal gain in experience and treasure at the cost of minimal damage to the party.

These are often used to be relatively short encounters where the party is allowed to display their Heroic abilities.  Typically they are in no danger of failing to overcome these encounters, but if they entered the encounter in a severely weakened state would be the only times that a Filler encounter would become a danger.

The purpose of a Delay encounter is to simply postpone the progression of a quest until the next gaming session.  These are Optional/Flexible encounters that are designed to occur at any time where the conditions are met.

These are "Stalling" encounters that can be prep'd by the DM and then dropped in at any point where the party begins to wander down a path that hasn't been fully prep'd.  Typically these occur at the end of a session that the party wrapped up earlier than expected, and everyone wants to keep going, but the DM doesn't have the information on hand to allow the party to get to where they want, or the DM just wants to further prep the next area that the party is heading into.

Weakening (W)
Very similar to the Delay encounter type, but the difficulty of the encounter is much greater.  These serve to cost the party a number of daily powers, and Healing Surges and grant a significant XP payout.  Often the reward of a weakening encounter is a magic item payout, replenish consumable supplies, as well as goal related information.

A trick often used in a weakening encounter is chaining multiple encounters together, thus removing the ability to recovery health and encounter powers in-between encounters.  Additionally, terrain effects can have interesting effects that cause endurance checks or the like where failures result in the loss of a healing surge.

Extension (E)
This is an encounter that should be presented to the party as a relative obviously optional encounter.  Most often this is presented as an encounter following a Climax.  Extension encounters are ones that pose risks versus rewards, and are meant to reward players that have managed to achieve the quest reward while keeping enough reserves for another foray.

These serve as exceptional accomplishments, with great rewards for completion.  The difficulty of extension encounters governs the reward, or these could be chained together with the possibility of allowing parties to significantly alter the Campaign.

With great rewards come great risks.  With these encounters designed to occur after the Goal has been gained, and with a significantly telegraphed optional nature or danger element, it should be clear to to the party that they are progressing at their own choice, and if they are not prepared it is these encounters that could result in a TPK if the party is too stupid to realize that they are out of their league.

An Extension encounter is only an extension if undertaken immediately after the Goal is achieved by definition.  If the party has the option to rest, and does so before progressing onward, then the reward for the Extension is significantly reduced.  However, completion of the encounter my still reward in it own minor quest reward if completed.

Story Arc
The Story Arc of a Campaign is the underlying Major Quest that is driving the party.

Guided Arc
In these story arcs each one leads perfectly into the next, and each is required to occur before the next.  This works well for beginning players or DMs with little time to prep for play, as you always know where the party is going next.

Side Trek Arc
In these stories the party knows the end goal, but is continually distracted from achieving it, due to other more urgent tasks continually coming up as they slowly progress toward the end goal, or the underlying Goal keeps getting further away after each distraction.

Uncovering Arc
Often this is like an iceberg, where only the tip is seen by the party during the initial campaign sessions, where more and more is uncovered the closer to the goal the party gets.  These typically begin with one or more Quest Paths before the underlying story is even known to the party.

Fast Conflict Resolution

The goal of HitDice is to be a fast resolution system, that at it's core makes sense.  This allows more GM control to adjust things on the fly as far a what's the bonus for cover and such, how much an attack advantage a given situation may provide, but there's definitely enough consistency that the players get an idea of game mechanics such that they know what they are getting their heroes into with the decisions that they make.

With the number of game system choices out there, I think really everyone can already find pretty much what they are looking for in game that they want.  However, diversity is definitely a part of any gaming group, so the system has to allow each player and the GM to get what they are looking for out of the game, especially in campaign play.

For one-off sessions it's easy for individuals to play one night almost anything, especially when the GM is the one doing most the work (in nearly every system), and at its core role-playing is role-playing, from Savage Worlds to Pathfinder, it's the ability for one to put yourself in your characters shoes, and just say what you want to do and then the GM "figures it out".

Understanding how systems handle ranged attacks or spells in melee combat can be critically important when you have a character that simply can afford to allow enemies extra attacks on them.  Plus, all of this simply is just a modeling of the fantasy world with mechanics and dice added for chance, so the more you understand the mechanics you can better "play" your hero.  There's hope that a GM will rule consistently and fairly, but we've all seen cases where that is simply not the case, or for sure might not seem so at the time.

In the HitDice system I really tried to keep it, at its core a "fast conflict resolution system".  I do like the "Epic Battle" idea, but don't feel the need for every encounter to be played out in that scale where it takes two hours to resolve a fight with a dozen goblins.

To do this modeling, I essentially started with a skirmish system, one that I was designing for a board game environment, that was designed to be fast paced.  As I began modeling the combat, I liked how quickly they came to a resolution.  After a number of play testing scenarios, I realized that even with these simple mechanics, there were a lot of "levers" that could be pulled to model different situations, and they really could grow in complexity.

In general HitDice is meant to handle the "old-school" adventures with 30+ rooms (maybe not all of which will be thoroughly dealt with), along with quest hooks, the journey and boss battle in a session or two.  So you can imagine that the resolution of any particular task is handled relatively quickly.  Thinking of the earlier RPGs, most encounters fell into the "non-critical" (or filler) category, designed more to paint the environment than something critical to the story.  So why should these take longer than a few minutes to resolve?

Skills are normally fast resolution, but I felt they should land more on a probability curve than a linear one, and everyone should have some chance to do anything (some things still require training, such as spell casting)...though this chance may have odds of 1 in 1,000.  With linear odds the result is more about who rolls higher on the dice, where end up with things commonly occurring that just don't make sense, the 18 Str warrior fails to open a door, and the 10 Str Mage comes up and rolls a "Nat 20" and succeeds.

I also agree many systems do this well, but I think dice pools do a much better job of capturing results than system that use linear-systems/one-dice (d20 or d%).  On top of the pool. the exploding dice add essentially an unlimited degree of success that can really generate 1 in a million probabilities, which at critical times can generate extremely heroic results, as well extremely unfavorable results when achieved by the opponents.

I know HitDice is not the only one that allows for this, but what I've tried to do is to keep the mechanics simple.  So that they work even in simple board games very similar as they do in more complex system to govern all scenarios.  Other similar systems have much more complex methods of determining success and/or the number of dice requires special utensils and a large surface space to allow the roll to be made.

The system has been designed as an evolutionary mechanic that one can learn in one of many board game settings, and then progress into and overlord/referee system and ultimately into a full blown RPG environment with little change to the game mechanics at their core, but simply by expanding the player options and integration of the story telling aspect into the game.

Monday, March 25, 2013

HitDice Complexity Scale

One of the design goals of the Hit Dice gaming system was to only use as much complexity as the game required.  To do this I really have defined four attribute levels, which I'm color coding as Bronze, Copper, Silver and Gold.  These are simply game categorizations, that will essentially define in rough terms how complex the game mechanics are.

The simplest games will use only the Bronze level ones, these are essentially the core attributes or Stat block items that every game that uses the HitDice system needs to function.  Games that use only the Bronze level will function a lot like a board game.

This "Simple" games will essentially define base levels for all other stats that the game will allow/require.  This means that some of the games may still use a Gold/Silver/Copper level ability, but rather than every hero having a different value, they simply define every hero to have the same Rank, so rather than echoing it on every character sheet, it's simply defined at a global well as defining a rank for all undefined items (I'll cover that a bit later).

Bronze level items are essential the heroes Pools (things like Life, Energy, Destiny) as well as a hero's Speed.  So that every HitDice game allows these items to vary between hero's.  But for the simplest of games they may define a hero as having 10 Life, 5 Energy, 4 Destiny and 4 Speed, which are modifiable via items found or skills learned, but essentially every one is playing the same build.

Copper level games allow for different combat abilities ABCD: Accuracy, Battle, Control and Defense.  These games allow for the basic hero archetypes to begin to be defined.  You can have high-Health/high-Battle tank types, or high-Accuracy/high-Destiny shooter types.  Typically the archetypes will have high in a couple, offset by low in others.

At the Copper level is where the basic combat heavier or skirmish games will typically fall as the basic archetypes along with equipment/loot stacked on these will make for sufficiently complex battles to be created.

Basic role-playing board games types, as well as overlord style games will fall into the Silver level.  These add the idea basic skills that a hero will be able to do.  These will fall inline with the archetype expectations of what that hero "should" be able to do.

Here would be a typical "Silver" level character card:
A "Copper" level would essentially have all the smaller circle abilities removed, and "Bronze" level would just have the Health, Energy, Karma and Speed, along with a generic Attack.  Though to it may state something like -1 with two-handed weapons or +1 with ranged attacks, which is similar in function as the different attacks, but handed with another mechanic rather than adding other types of attacks.

Now at the Copper level using a convention such as Skill and Item cards, you can get the same variety as the Silver level without having to define the Silver level skills.  This would work by possibly defining all skills at Rank 2, then having abilities like "Keen Vision" or "Magnifying Glass" granting a +1 Rank each to the skill of "Searching".  Then you can get the same variety as the Silver level with Copper level attributes, but custom game mechanics add the require level of complexity.

Gold level games would essentially to the traditional RPG type games that would give similar game play experience as Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder or Savage Worlds.  These define all the standard skills on a per hero customizable on archetype/template basis, that are further customizable through hero advancement.

Essentially their would be a Platinum level of a HitDice game, this would expose the underlying hidden attributes that are used in the defining the base archetype templates, but since these are really not used after character creation I typically don't list them on the Gold hero sheets.

I'm currently spending most of my free time working on Zombie-Town which is essentially the simplest game I have using HitDice rules on, which falls into the Bronze level.  Then I've got Dun-Jion which has both Copper and Silver type rules, but only Silver hero card.  For the Copper level you just don't really use the skills.

Then as a double-check and end-to-end complexity check I've been working more on the full RPG version of the rules as well.  This has caused a few ripples through the general game mechanics as I've worked out how I wanted the game to function at that level, and what the implications of the change would be at the other levels.

So getting back to the increasing complexity and adding variety of the Bronze level game.  In Zombie Town (ZT), I simply define all attacks rolls are done at Rank 1, then add the weapon modifier onto that rank.  Same thing goes with "Searching", in advanced games (Silver+ level) this would use perception, but for ZT searching is defined at a Rank 3 roll, adjusted by the location modifier and possibly item modifier as well.  Hero's in ZT still add variable play styles and function as they have different pool values and speed attributes, but other than that are mostly defined by their equipment.

This about sums up the complexity scale, so that people can roughly determine the games implementation of the HitDice rule set.  Essentially Bronze and Copper play more like board games, where Silver and Gold begin adding more traditional RP elements to the game.

Damage Categories

I've thought a long time about damage types and how much they add or detract from game play.  What I've come up with is most of the time they really can be ignored...however, it does added significantly to my playing experience when I think about what the effect of shooting an arrow at a skeleton, and even though my bow is my best attack and most damaging weapon, I think about what the effect in "non-game" terms and decide that asking the cleric to borrow their mace is a much more logical attack, since they are going to be turning for the first few rounds.

This is just one of the things that were lost (for the most part) when I switched from D&D 3.5 to 4E, but is seemed minor when I was playing 4E a lot, and only after playing Pathfinder at a Con did I realize what removing the damage types did to the basic combat, and after battling a few creatures where there was a real bonus/penalty of choosing the right or wrong weapon did I remember what this added to the game.

Exactly how much is lost when you simply say damage is damage, and you simply allow any weapon to hurt any creature equally?  "Maybe not much, if body count is the goal of the evening," is my response.  I just think that the basic "Slashing/Blunt/Peircing" types add the more enjoyment to the longer do I always fire my bow, simply because that's the best attack I have...maybe I'm better off charging the Frost Drake with my ever-burning torch, I know it's not real fire or actually even hot, but maybe the drake don't know that and it simply sees the fire and assumes it's going to hurt.  I guess to me the different damage types open up more of an ability to role-play in a battle scenario, and more than that it simply "makes sense" when you think about it.

To me switching things up in a way that makes logical sense is much more enjoyable.  I don't need everything spelled out as a GM either, if a clever player uses a vial of acid against a shield guardian in an effort to do more damage rather than trying their typical feint and sneak attack move that will deal a lot of damage, then as a GM I have to say, "Do I want to encourage this behavior or simply force them to do the 'tried and true massive damage approach'?"...So, for the sake of encouraging this behavior, may I give them a significant damage bonus (and maybe I up the creatures HPs at the same time), however the player just sees the damage dice they just rolled, and then next round seeks to do something equally clever...tell me it doesn't beat the crap out of hearing the exact same battle plan round after round, or simply hearing "I attack that one...<roll>...does an X hit?".

Depending on the party, it may get a little tiring of having players "beg for bonuses" every round out of jealously seeing the extra damage their companion just received  but I still think it beats the alternative, and you can also apply it in a negative first making the hero commit to the attack before announcing what bonuses/penalties they receive  and when they try to weasel out after finding about a penalty, simply saying "It's too late the attack has already been made."

What I've done is pick some of my favorite types of damage, I admit I got a little crazy, but honestly most of these will be seldom seen any way, and in many battles admittedly it won't matter that it's a slashing weapon verses an opponent in ring-mail  but if the player actually makes the effort to react to something, even if its not in the rules or it's not something that I'd thought about, what the harm in rewarding them with a dice?  The still need to get a good roll on it or the extra dice didn't matter in the result, but it did matter in their mind.

The basic damage types I've come up with are really no different that most other RPGs.  The two most common are the basic Physical and Elemental groups.  Then I have the less common group of Vile damage, though poison and disease are in here, which are not all that rare.  Another less common, but required type for certain campaigns is the Mental group, which genre that have high psionic or sanity tracking would need.

The last group is Righteous damage, which is where radiant damage is, but I also have Natural weapons in here, my thinking here is Natural weapons (claws, bite and fists) are a form of "courage" attack.  This rationale came to me when I wanted a hero to have a courage based attack form, and to me nothing would be more courageous than to leave your weapons behind and simply attack with ones hands or body.  Some archetypes (thinking warlords  or cavalier here) might even have auras of courage that would make their weapon damage act Righteous damage in addition to its base Physical type.  The paladin or cleric archetype would already have abilities that would grant them radiant damage so they would have the ability to affect creatures such as spectres or other incorporeal creatures.

"Damage Type" as its core, I don't see as complicating combat.  Rather, I see it turning combat into a mental exercise where players rather then simply saying "I attack!", will rather review their heroes arsenal and select the best weapon that they have verses the target they are attacking.  Sometimes this choice will be selecting the attack with the largest attack surface, other times it will be more of a ray or other more controlled attack pattern.  Sometimes the choice is, how much energy to expend in a next round to hopefully end it sooner, maybe its to inflict less damage to more creatures or maximum damage to one, is so then what type of damage works best.

Heroes typically don't have a full range of damage choices to select from, they typically have one or two melee choices and some type of ranged choice.  Then they may have a few more "in case of emergency" type items that they can't afford to use very often, as well as a few attacks that cost them energy that need to be rationed to last the expedition   Even with a well prepared hero, they may only have six  damage types available, of which three may be "emergency" uses only, and their zone attacks are likely limited as well.

So, there is always going to be the "standard attack" that the hero's will fall into, but as a GM there are environmental things that can be done to give the creative players a few one shot damage weapons for free in room...A cask of oil by the desk, a glowing brazier on either side of the altar, chandelier hanging in the center of the room, and curtains covering a few entrances...depending on the opponent many of these could be used as a more effective weapon than simply swinging an sword or axe.

The creative rewards don't have to be directly related to actually killing the enemy.  Often, the party will out number the enemy when fighting a deadly creature, if one or two of them can sacrifice their actions to cause the creature to not attack, or to not use its most dangerous attack, then this will give the rest of the them a free round to deal damage.   When they are out numbers by hordes or swarms of weaker creatures, then maybe simply causing the creatures a round of confusion or fear with a creative attack is better than taking even a small group of them out.

Ultimately, I find combat a delicate balance of fear and confidence, where there's just the right amount of role-playing and war-gaming going on at the table.  This is often a challenge due to the styles of the various players that are assembled at the table, but I think putting together scenarios that allow of environmental advantages or weapons, as well as clues that may allow for a short circuit of the melee battle by dealing with an environmental puzzle.  Not every battle requires a puzzle be solved or optimization to be sought after by the party, sometimes the best answer is to let the barbarian do what he does, or the rogue do their thing...but in cases where the battle is going to be more difficult it probably will pay to give the party an "out" or at least a few things to try...just in case there's a TPK, I find it goes over better in the "WTF happen" post mordem talks to say, "Well, what you guys didn't do is _____ or _____".  This maybe just me, but I don't like killing a player when they were just executing on a good idea, even when their dice are out to get them, but sometimes the heroic thing to do is to let the hero die being heroic.

Here is my current working list:

Physical (S/B/P)
Slashing Bladed weapons that attack with cleaving or slashing motions, also includes teeth and claws that have tearing attacks
Blunt Most rounded, rough or dull pointed weapons, fists or stomping attacks
Piercing Pointed attacks such as arrows, or long stabbing weapons that are primarily designed to pierce with a point

Elemental (F/L/A/C/E/D)
Fire Heat, burning or otherwise hot or actual open flames
Lightning Electric, Lightning or any type of voltage energy charge
Acid Organic material dissolving liquid or gas attacks
Cold Cold, ice or frost based damaging attacks
Explosive (Force)Non-physical explosive trama attacks, such as arcane missiles, sonic or thunder attacks
Dissolving Inorganic material dissolving liquid or gas attacks, corrosive attacks

Vile (P/D/E/N/T) - often has long term lingering effects
Poison Attacks that drain points of attributes
Disease Turning a creatures own immune system against itself or simply over powering it
Energy Drain Attacks that drain life force, stamina or mana out of a creature (or possibly item)
Necrotic These attacks reduce the maximum health of the target
Taint A measurement of supernatural corruption, this is somewhat like damage to ones soul

Righteous (R/B/N/H/C)
Radiant Holy/Divine energy attacks
Belief Similar to radiant, but lacking in divine origin.  Having extreme hope, courage or faith in oneself is enough
Natural/Living The weapon itself is actual alive, a fist, claw, bite or grapple are simple versions of "living" attacks (extension of Belief)
(Healing) Recovery of health (not really a type of damage, but more anti-damage)
(Craft/Repair) Recovery of structure of an object (not really a type of damage)

Mental (S/I/P)
Sanity Mental degradation that event leads to the inability to believe ones senses or makes one incapable of personal actions
Illusion Mentally convincing a creature that is has taken damage, which actually makes the damage real
Psionic This is actually physical damage inflicted by a psionic attack

Friday, March 15, 2013

Had a dream...

It was funny thing, the other night...I woke up at 4:27am, right after I had this crazy dream about combat mechanics.  Well, I got up immediately and spent the next three hours scrambling to get them all down before I forgot them, and I had to get the kids to school.

I think I did an adequate job capturing them, and I've been spending the past week, working with them and playing around.  I have an in-depth post pretty much written, but I'm still tweaking them, and wanted to get something out there, as it seems that I'm actually getting a fair number of hits as of late...crazy I know.

At the core of the system is nothing shocking, before the dream here's essentially where I was going.  Every hero starts with 2 Action Points (AP), which they can use to move or attack.  So typically the first round would be spent closing the distance, then you'd spend both AP to maximize damage.

This played a lot like Zombicide or Descent, quick and simple, which is what I was going for. However, it seemed to promote, the spending of the AP for attack purposes, and it left minor things sort of up in the air...either they had to be free or cost a full AP, made things like switching weapons extremely expensive in terms of combat, if they took a whole AP.  This is especially true, since combat can be extremely deadly, so using your AP to attack would seem vital to your survival.

Then I decided that d20/Pathfinder/4E model works better for freedom and not forcing people to optimize AP use on attacking, simply giving them one of each, Move and Standard actions gives people more freedom, at least in terms of not attempting to maximize damage, if you give them a "movement only" action they may as well take it, since they CAN'T use it to attack.

I do deal with the move action slightly different than the other systems, in HitDice the Move action really breaks down into minor actions called "Steps".  A hero gets as many Steps equal to their Speed attribute (typically 3 to 6).  Faster heroes get more Step actions than slower ones, and Step actions can be used to measure very minor actions, like stowing a bow, drawing a sword, moving to the next space (five foot step), grabbing a item, drinking a potion, etc.

Where the dream came in was to add a flexible mechanic to this, now in the dream the tracking mechanism were cards, but I'm not sure that cards are required, but I'll explain it in that context.

When a battle starts every hero loads up their cards, they have cards In-Hand, cards On-Deck, and cards In-Reserve.  The Reserve cards are reset at the time of say, an over-night rest, and typically are simply Attack and Refresh cards.  Then the Hand is typically Attack, Move and Bonus Dice, and finally On-Deck cards are typically Attack and Move.

The Reserve cards carry from battle to battle, but may be played as if they are In-Hand, and sometimes cards can move from a players Hand to Reserve (this is related to the skills they possess, and there is a maximum number or any given type of card that can be in a hero's Reserve).

The Hand is what is playable during the current turn, and the On-Deck is what their next turn will use.  Reserve is just that, cards that give them the ability to stock up and do things like gain an extra movement in a given round, and then possibly triple attack the next round.  Every round the remaining cards in your hand are discarded, your On-Deck becomes your Hand and your new On-Deck gets reloaded.

I'm sure you'll see the similarities to the other systems.  What I've described is very similar to a 4E combat turn, you have a Move and Attack action, and you can "Action Token" to gain an extra attack, but then it is gone.  Next round you get another Move and Attack, ok...not a big deal.

However it is a big deal, as you can spend Energy from your hero's pool to pull cards from your On-Deck to use them in the current round...maybe to attempt one more attack to drop a deadly creature?  Though, if you miss, you've just spent your next round's attack, and you'll have to skip attacking for a round to "catch-up", or continually spending Energy to pull your On-Deck attack up to your Hand.

Also, what this does is allow hero abilities or feats to grant bonus cards that may appear in a hero's Hand, On-Deck, or Reserve cards.  So a ability/feat like "Maneuverable" could be created to add an extra Move card to the hero's On-Deck cards, or "Combat Reflexes" could allow a hero to instantly draw up their On-Deck to their Hand, and reload their On-Deck at a given Energy cost.

This would allow every hero archetype to possibly get different "actions" or cards to play during their hero's turn, which might be hard to remember if everyone has a different set of actions, but you'd have it right in front of you in the form of cards (or some other tracking mechanism).

I've current created over 10 different types of cards that hero could play on their turn, and most have both offensive and defensive uses, so say if I hero was not going to move, they could hold their "Move" card and attempt to dodge if they are targeted with an attack, using their Move card as a defensive action.  Typically by "Offensive", I mean the card is played on the hero's turn, and by "Defensive", i mean that it is used as an interrupt or reaction to another event.

Like I said, I've created some formal rules about all this, and described every cards use (both offensive and defensive), but additionally I created a sort of combat currency.  I call these cards "Favors".

With HitDice using exploding dice mechanics, a hero gains a "Favor" whenever they roll a dice that explodes for their attack.  Favors don't get discarded like other types of cards during the "Reload" phase, so as the battle goes on, a hero can spend Favors to replenish their Reserve, or to gain and immediate Move or additional Attack, or any of the other numerous cards.

At the end of the encounter, there is a Wrap-Up phase where heroes might be able to store certain cards in their reserves (gained by having certain skills/feats), or they may spend any Favors that they earned during the battle, before discarding them...All cards, including unspent Favors are discarded after a battle, with the exception of a hero's Reserve.

This dynamic allows easy tracking and very simple and flexible combat dynamic that will begin with something most are familiar with granting a Move and Attack option each round, but as the heroes advance, they will all gain different abilities by granting them extra cards to play.

I have only done limited testing so far, but until things get pretty advanced, there really doesn't seem to be a need to track most cards, except maybe Favors, I'm sure further testing will reveal this.  As you typically most heroes have similar cards in each pile (Hand, On-Deck, and Reserve), and you get pretty used to any specially action your specific hero may have, so you easily remember to use it or simply discard it, when their doesn't seem to be a option to play it.

Even without adding the additional card mechanics, it does seem to increase the options in a given round.  I know as a player I struggle with strict GM's that refuse to give my character an extra single square of movement (give me penalties, but at least give me a chance), when it makes the entire would of difference to executing the round of the century or simply stating..."Well I guess I move to here."  With the described system, players are in control of their hero, and can choose to be very heroic, either on a gamble that the battle will be over or at a severe energy point cost, but at least the system allows it, which means no more begging the GM...

This is also why it works well in Skirmish games, as the rules spell out all these "extra" things heroes can do in a round, and you often simply pay the cost and roll, or discard the card and "Do-It", so the GM isn't required to "rule" as often.

That said, it's not as crippling to the GM (as other RPG games) as say the 4E powers are.  Most of the heroic abilities and maneuvers come at a significant price, where if the task attempted does fail, where the hero that tried to be "too heroic" may not be alive for much longer, but somethings that's just what a hero's got to do.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Developing your Hero

To keep some party dynamics alive with role playing elements each player should choose two party member as Links, and choose the type of Link that exists between them.  There are both positive and negative types of Links available.  The reason for choosing a negative Link is not to create conflict in the party, but to give the character something to work toward rebuilding/over-coming.

These are all Role-playing aids that help players "get into" the role of their Hero.  Having a link to members of the party helps them to dismiss the meta-gaming (ignoring the knowledge that player has) and try to play the situation as their Hero would.  It may not be the smartest thing in game terms, but it might be much more heroic, or better for story-telling, in the encounter or situation is thought as if it were to be "retold" what might make it more interesting.

Some example Links are:

[+] Brotherhood: the Heroes are apart of the same clan or gang and have been through a lot together, this often leads to risking lives to save another Hero, or choosing to die together fighting side by side as they had so many times before, hopefully to allow other members of the party to live.

[+] Promised Protector: an elder Hero, or possibly stronger has promised the others family that they would keep them safe, or do their best to keep them out of trouble.  They may take on more dangerous tasks, even if the other volunteers for them, thinking up lame reasons for themselves to perform the task in place of the other.

[+] Teacher/Student: The two heroes have a Teacher/Student relationship, where one is significantly better at a task then the other.  This might be even in a Gateway that the other has not even entered yet, but the role-play of the teaching/learning could still be played out.

[+] Family: Maybe a brother/sister or cousin relationship exist, this typically represents the positive side of this types of relationships.  In this sense, it is more the assumed complete trust, and good nature toward the other, knowing that the behavior will be reciprocated in the future.

[+] Admirer: This does not have to be in a sexual manner, but simply that one Hero cannot do the things of the other, and they have a fascination with that other Hero's skills.  They may go out of their to watch them in battle, or do favors for them when in town.

[+] Similar Interests: The two simply have one or more similar interests and enjoy the company and conversation, when the two are together they may even get a little lost in conversation about their joint interests and may even lose sight of what is going on around them.

[-] Distrust: An inherent distrust of the other party member exists.  This could be played blatant initially, but the idea is for the Heroes to work toward patching this up (not on the first adventure together, but over time).  This could be conveyed with taking watch with the distrusted Hero, or going with them on a scouting mission, simply to keep an eye on them.  Or it could be more secretive, paying others for info on them, or to tail them, or simply observe and report.

[-] Envy: Similar to Admirer, but the underlying intentions are not as pure.  There may be a desire to see them fail, or to attempt to show them up, such as if they miss an attack, this Hero may attempt to kill the creature that is on the "Envied" Hero to attempt to draw a complement, to to show them that they can succeed when some better then then fails, thus proving they are better (right?).

[-] Rivalry: Hopefully done is sporting manner, like competing for the most kills in an adventure or battle by battle.  Often these are different styles of Heroes, one trying to prove their weapon to Gateway of choice is superior, since they can kill more "baddies" then the other...even if the other does not know there's a competition going on.

[-] Personal Item: This is simply something you believe another party member has that belongs to you.  Whether you lost it and they found it, or it was lost gambling and changed hands until it ended up with them, or at least they are the last one that had it.  You want to check their things to be sure its not hidden in them, and if not try to ask them where the item was place or sold.

Heroic Traits

In addition to Party Links, a Hero may want to apply a trait to themselves, or a few that gives them some guiding principles for their Hero.  These might be Arrogance and Justice, for a warrior that knows they can get the job done, but continually fights for what is right.  Another Hero my go with Knowledge and Generosity, they do what they do to learn more, and they continually give a lot of their treasures away.

Giving your Hero a couple of minor guiding traits can make the easy to play, but even with these it does not require them to act a certain way all the time.  If you put Brave down, and some unknown person is asking the them to go into a Troll lair to retrieve an item, they don't have to agree simply because they are brave.  Most brave individuals have done so, when they have a hope of surviving...So people can tales of their bravery later.

Heroes Network

As a GM I have found it very useful to have players develop a few NPC's that their Hero knows, each with a minor story.  Theses can be from the little girl they saved from a goblin named Shawna, and the Hero stops by to visit her and her family when ever they are in town, or their Black smith friend, Molar, who vowed never to make another weapon, despite his superior skill in this area, as his son was killed by a weapon that he was previously commissioned to craft.

These are very easy adventure hooks that a GM attach a story, it might be difficult to get the party to agree on a price to retrieve and item from a group of orcs, and negotiations could break down if handled poorly...but nothing would get the group moving on just such a quest if...While the party is hanging at an inn, Shawna's crying mother comes bursting through the door screaming "There took her!".  The Hero connected to Shawna is going to ask little more than "Which direction did the go", and he'll have all those orc's heads lined up in the Bounty Hunters shop...more fun and exciting, less haggling over "how much is it worth to you?", but if the negotiations did occur and they failed, this hook will likely get the party to recover the item, but they will have more negotiation power if they are holding the item in their hands.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dun-Jin is a fantasy map building game that uses the HitDice gaming engine.  The objective of the game can be randomized or selected, in either case all players know what the goal is at the beginning of the game.  Everyone starts in the entrance/exit chamber and may proceed in any direction that is available.

The game uses random Hex shaped tiles, that are broken into two decks, Halls and Rooms.  When exploring a Hero typically draws a Hall tile, but if there is a door they may draw a door card and is successfully bypassed, then they get to place a Room tile behind this door they explored.

I'm currently torn right now by using a Random Token system to be drawn after a room tile (which is the current implementation) or to implement this directly on the Room Tile cards (which would improve the art), but also increase the size of the Room Tile deck and lock the number of entrances to that particular room.  The current implementation is to Draw a room, and then Draw both Room Token and Contents card.  The token must be drawn first as some room types don't get a contents card, but rather have their contents specified.

The game objective is recommended to be chosen by player consensus, or possibly voted on, but many different schemes can be applied here.  For first time play the one of the co-operative objectives are recommended, where the party is playing as a team to "Win" the scenario.  There are a number of different types of these as well, but the common goal is to "Defeat the Boss" or "Pay the Toll".  In every type of game there is always an "End of Game" that is based on the number of turns or collapsing corridor mechanism, if this occurs then all players lose.

I'm playing with the idea of a "class-less" basic version where, essentially your skills are weapon dependent, so changing to a different archetype is essentially as easy as switching weapons.  That said, I do have classes or more correctly character types created, that probably will make it into the base version, which will make different characters more adept at different skills, these also have different starting items.

The heroes in the game can advance using a number of different methods, by exploring tiles the hero earns exploration tokens, these can be spent to improve various abilities.  By defeating monsters a hero earns Experience, which can be used to learn different skills and abilities.  By finding various support characters in the dungeon they my buy different items from them or learn different skills at the cost a gold, possibly with an exploration token or experience point cost as well.

Other ways to improve your hero is by finding items or materials to craft your own items out of, or by finding a shop in the dungeon one can buy (or even steal) items from these locations.

This game is designed as either an intro to a fantasy RPG with definite loss/win criteria, with some elements of role-playing mixed in.  The game is much more mechanical than a traditional RPG, but could be used as an introduction as to what an RPG feels like, as far as having a character with equipment and skills, and using these to the best of your ability to accomplish a goal.

The game also has the concepts of character advancement, shopping for items, crafting better gear, and a few other mechanics such as traps, puzzles and decisions that one would find in a typical RPG, but again these have a much more game-mechanical feel then what they would find in a full role-playing system.

I'm working on a number of different expansions to this game, which will allow it to be played as a 1:1 skirmish style or team vs team for more than two players, as well as an Overlord expansion where one player will setup scenarios for the other players, which will get even closer to a traditional RPG, but still bound many of the rules in more of a board game "feel".
The ultimate "end of the rainbow" idea here being, the full release of the HitDice RPG engine, with essentially everything learned in each of the other games will now fall into the Game-Master (GM) and Players realm, in which the story is told by the GM and players each control a hero in a fully open game system.  This was actually the first thing that I created, but have been working to fit it into a "step by step learning framework", that could be mastered one expansion at a time, as a road map for kids or introduction to adults that haven't played an RPG before.

All of these games will exist in the same "Game Universe" which is the already created world of Kraterra, the land of the Crater.  Which will not only help solidify the link for one expansion to the next, but provide increasing world knowledge from those that progress from "Dun-Jin" to ...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Zombie Streets...(Sneak preview)

Here's a sneak-peek at a side project of mine that I've been playing with for about six months.  I've been playing with card board hand drawn tiles with friends and family up to this point, but I'm about ready to run my first batch of official cards.  Once I do this I'll feel better about allowing others to play test, as they will not only get to comment on the game play, but the look and feel of the cards and tiles.

Zombie Town is getting close to being ready, but my biggest problem has been maintaining focus on this, I keep coming up with more game ideas, that I seem to have to pursue enough to get a good idea about how the game would "feel", then I go back to Zombie Town for a little bit.

Essentially Zombie Town is a typical zombie apocalypse game, the survivors are attempting to accomplish an objective, but they don't know what it is until all the streets have been placed, only then do they finally draw the mission objective.

The map is constructed by alternately linking Crossroads with Streets, such that the tiles "fit" together.  Then once the streets are gone an objective card is drawn, and the buildings can be explored.  The objects range from finding particular items and reaching a specific tile, to fixing a vehicle, to fortifying a building, to last man standing, to first one to 50 kills, to each drawing there own objecting, and more.

The end result is a game with very high replay-ability that you don't know what you really want for a map until you have your objective, but by then the map is already fixed, and they just have to explore the building.  I'm thinking of an alternate style where the building can explored as well earlier, but they could not cause the map to grow in height or width, so essentially you would need to know where the roads were going before a building could be explored...little more complex to explain, so I'm leaning toward the other where of initial planning.

The difficulty mechanism is determined by the over all activity level.  It's assumed there are infinite zombies, but only those near the activity are initially drawn to the area of the survivors.  The activity level increases by one for every turn a survivor takes, and again at the end of each round based on the number of noise that was made by the survivors over all.  The more the activity level increases the harder the game will get, as the main determining factor for what type of creature is encountered is based on the current activity level.

The enemies are collectively called "Zombies", but the actually type of creature encountered can be anything from a rat swarm or infected animal, to a shambler (slow moving once dead human) to various types of infected humans (faster moving still considered to be alive), to the Zombie-King (similar concept of a Rat-King) and then there's the Horde (a large mixture of various types of creatures gathered in an area).

The Streets and Crossroads really determine the map size and shape, the Building are where the majority of the items can be found.  In the typical game the buildings cannot be explored until all the road cards have been explored.  There are four more types of cards: Events (drawn by first player at the start of every Survivor phase), Items (drawn when a player removes a search token from a tile), Doors (drawn when a survivor attempts to enter a building), and the Building Propose (used to determine the type of building that was explored, or sometimes the current use of the building).  These are in addition to the Objective deck that was previously mentioned.

The current thinking is to possibly release the "Basic" version with just the Streets, Crossroads, Objectives, Events and most items, to keep cost down and allow people to try it out cheaper, than have a "Buildings Expansion", that will add the Building Tiles, Doors and Building Propose, as well as more items...and possibly other cards.

The game can be scaled by adding more Street & Crossroad cards that must be exhausted before building can be searched, this can allow for more people to play or could be used to increase the difficulty.  Or the opposite could be done as well, where less cards to be used to allow for less players or a solo version, or to increase the likely hood of winning.  Guideline will be provided for recommended number of players for easy, difficult and hard-core games.

Crossroads or Intersection cards:

Street cards (join Crossroads together, and provide location of building doors)

Building cards show the interior of building and the interior layout and possible interior room exits (these exits are trumped by roads, in which case they become doors).