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.