kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
I haven't written about the Austen RPG in ages (my last post was in June; see here and here for previous entries), but I have more of an idea what the game might look like. My models are old fashioned, highly structured RPGs of the 1970s such as En Garde! and Flash Gordon and the Warriors of Mongo, half-way between board games and the tabletop roleplaying of today.

The question I asked last time was, who are the PCs? I think you'd have an interesting dynamic with two sets of players: Parents and their daughters. In a typical game, one player takes the role of the head of the household -- either the father or widowed mother -- while the others are daughters. The HoH takes care of the budget and is the custodian of the family name. His daughters are financially burdensome, and he wants to get them married off, but he also has to make sure they don't get the reputation of being loose women. (Replace these terms with whatever would better suit an Austenesque game.)

The daughters, meanwhile, want to be happily married. Each will have a set of characteristics they most desire in a man, and their happiness depends on how well matched they are. However they must compete both with each other and with a set of NPC women for a small set of bachelors, and they will be expected to marry in birth order, with the oldest daughter marrying first. There will be a temptation, particularly with the younger daughters, to throw convention out the window and be openly flirtatious. This increases their chance of getting married to the men they like, but endangers the family's reputation. So there's an inherent Prisoner's Dilemma dynamic unless the HoH does his job properly.

kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
4th edition D&D has always had a flavor problem, and this is never more clear then when reading the power descriptions. This is true even though each power has a colorful name and a short bit of flavor text. Quick: Can you name all of your PC's powers? I've been playing a rogue in [ profile] kokoinai's campaign since 4th edition came out, and gotten to 16th level, but I could only name half of his exploits from memory, let alone say what each of them did.

Part of the problem, no doubt, is that rogue exploits -- unlike, say, wizard spells -- are all going to sound a bit alike. There are only so many ways to describe one guy stabbing someone else. So you get abilities like "Crimson Edge," whose name tells you nothing at all, so its no surprise I couldn't tell you what it does.

This may get to the core of the issue: There are just too many attack powers, all doing more or less the same things. In some future edition of D&D there should be far fewer of them, perhaps only one new power every 5 levels instead of every 2-3. If you want more variety for spellcasters you can expand the size of the spellbook (from 2-3 spells to 4-5), or give them powers from their pact, totem, guild or deity.

Alternatively characters can get powers as frequently as they do today, but only up to low Paragon tier. After that they can Enhance existing powers: Add extra dice of damage; push, pull or slide targets farther; add more conditions to the effects. After all, you can find many powers -- such as "Deep Cut" and "Biting Assault" for rogues -- that do more-or-less the same thing, only one is better than the other. Instead you could have a single power ("Deep Cut") and an Enhanced version at later levels ("Enhanced [Level 25]: Increase damage to 3[W], and target is weakened on hit (save ends)"). It would save space and make all of the powers easier to remember.
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
The latest version of the politics game, Breakdown, is being put up on Google Docs for public viewing. I've only put up the rules and the "generic" 4-player scenario, but other components will be posted as I finish them. (Note that the region diagram in the 4-player scenario is off; I'll have to fix this by replacing the table with a GIF.)

This version of Breakdown was partially inspired by Avalon Hill's old game Squad Leader. Not by the rules -- Heaven help us -- but by its customizability. I liked how it used historical "scenarios," which were interesting to read. I think it'd be cool to say, "tonight we're going to play Chile in the early 70s" and see how it turns out. It's also a way to invite hobbyists to write their own scenarios, introduce their own rules variants and so forth. If the game caught on -- by some miracle -- it could bring back some of the old wargaming culture, but focused on simulating politics rather than warfare.

As always, I'd love an opportunity to playtest the game, or to hear criticisms or recommendations of one sort or another.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
These days I've been working on a multi-genre book for Two-Fisted Tales, tentatively titled Worlds of Wonder. (Yeah, I know this was a Chaosium game. Hope they don't have the rights...) Right now the superhero section is close to done, but others -- sword & sorcery, swashbuckling and space opera -- are only briefly sketched out. (I feel obligated to include a Western chapter, too, but I have no idea what to put in it.)

So far, my focus in the swashbuckling section has been on expanding the combat rules. In 2FT most rounds of combat will end with one person getting injured, and with those injuries mucking him up. That's the way I wanted it: Quick action and quick resolution. It doesn't really simulate the Errol Flynn swordfight very well, though, in which blow after blow is blocked, dodged or parried until one side drops to the ground. So I've been thinking of ways to put the swackbuckling duel into Two-Fisted Tales; the most promising approach, as I see it, is to give characters a lot more cards, but only give these defensive uses.

For inspiration I've been watching fencing film clips on YouTube. One of my favorites is this one from The Mark of Zorro:

Another is this scene in Scaramouche:

There's also the goofy swordfight at the beginning of The Princess Bride, of course, but I'm sure you've all seen that one.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
As I recall World of Warcraft and other MMOs have fairly crude rules for determining whether monsters attack PCs. Most monsters will attack as soon as they enter the PCs threat area, this "threat area" being inversely proportional to the PCs level. This makes some sense, but it means monsters will still make Kamikaze runs against high-level PCs who run too close. It's stupid, and annoying for the player, too, who just wants to get to his high-level dungeon without fighting all the Murlocs in his way.

Here's one way I'd model monster behavior, if I could. (No idea if this would be impractical to program, take too much processor power, or what have you.) Assume PCs and monsters can be classified as "low aggression" and "high aggression." "Low aggression" creatures only attack out of fear or self-defense; they get no material advantage from killing. "High aggression" creatures, on the other hand, attack to get something from their victims (meat, money, XP, or whatever). Also assume, for the sake of argument, that higher level monsters always defeat low-level PCs, and lower-level monsters never defeat high-level PCs. (This isn't true, but it's a close enough approximation for the chart.) Given these assumptions, rational monster behavior would look like this:

PC Aggression



Monster Aggression















(Sorry for the crude formatting. I'm too lazy to do HTML tables by hand, and I'm only willing to waste so much time cleaning up Word HTML for an LJ entry.) In this table, "Lower-Level" means the monster is weaker than the PC, "Higher-Level" means he's tougher. "Ignore," "Hide/Flee" and "Attack" indicate the monster's responses.

Now if you assume PCs are all "High-Aggression" then the monster's decisions are easy: They should attack weaker PCs, hide or flee from the stronger ones. This alone would make the game more interesting (it's hard farming creatures who flee at the sight of you), but I think it'd add another layer of interest if certain players can be perceived as less-aggressive. This would work especially well if players could advance through non-violent means.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
I feel bad for not writing more on the Jane Austen RPG (see here and here), since the idea provoked a lot of interest.

I became stuck on the question of agency. Who do the players "play"? As many of you know, I have issues with Narrativist games, particularly with player identity and motivation. When I'm in a roleplaying game I want to play a participant in the action, not a member of the Council of Demiurges trying to create a "good story" out of the proceedings. I want to see events through the character's eyes, and choose actions appropriate to his or her desires.

So who would the "player characters" be in an Austen game? At first I thought they'd be women looking for husbands, while there'd be a GM who would play everyone else. Would it make more sense, though, for Mr. Darcy and the rest of them to have dedicated players? Not quite sure, really.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
This will probably be the last of my posts on Two-Fisted Tales: The Golden Age, as there aren't enough of you who are both ex-2FT players and Golden Age comics fans. I'm planning to use a number of public domain superheroes as examples, and Will Eisner's ever-so-derivative Wonder Man was an obvious choice.

Wonder Man

The not-so-great Wonder Man was created by the great Will Eisner to be a blatant rip-off of Superman. His debut in Wonder Comics # 1 (May, 1939) was his last appearance, as National Comics (Superman’s publisher) successfully sued Fox Feature Syndicate before the second issue hit the stands.

Fred Carson was a radio engineer and amateur inventor. On a trip to Tibet he met a yogi who gave him a power ring, one that gave him amazing strength. This interpretation of Wonder Man was built at the Astonishing power level1 from the Professor template.
Brains 14
Luck 11
Mind 10
Muscle 612
Reflexes 10
Savvy 10
Status 11
Wealth 11
Weird 72
Specialties Brains (Science)
Masteries Brains [Engineering]
Schticks Crime Televisor3
Wrist Radio
Thick Skin
Defects Power Source (-10)4
Hero Points 0
1 I had to make four new power levels beyond "Amazing" - Incredible, Astounding, Astonishing and Uncanny - which have an extra 20, 40, 60 and 100 Hero Points, respectively. "Uncanny" is for Stardust the Super-Wizard or other characters who can do just about anything they feel like; I considered calling it "Insane" instead.
2 This was Superman's precise Muscle rating, I realized, after I found out it was how large a Muscle score had to be before you could "leap an eighth of a mile." Since Wonder Man was such a Superman ripoff, it should be his Muscle rating, too.
3 Speaking of Stardust the Super-Wizard, both of them had this crime-viewfinder thing. Since Wonder Man came first I guess this was actually original.
4 You'd call this "Defect" a "Limitation" in most games. It indicates you could take away Wonder Man's powers by stealing his power ring.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
I promised Brett Bernstein I'd write a Golden Age superhero supplement for Two Fisted Tales, and its been hard-going, to the point that Brett's own Genre Diversion-based superhero game The Brave and the Bold is almost ready for publication and I've got nothing but scattered notes around. (For the record, I think Brett's GDi system is really badly suited for superheroes ... but that's another issue.)

My problem is this: The schticks in Two Fisted Tales were constructed using a point-build system of sorts. I could make it explicit for the superhero module, but unfortunately it's really horribly complicated. That didn't matter in 2FT because it was hidden from players and GMs (which is how, BTW, I think the Hero System really ought to work), but once it's made public it will look awful. Unfortunately, to work as intended, I think point-build systems should be extremely complicated, even more so then they tend to be.

Take an Energy Blast power, for example. At first blush, you would think it'd be easy to charge for a blast power: Make the cost proportional to the damage it does, so cost = damage x C. Problem: You'd have to spend a lot of points to get an EB that's no better than a Glock. Champions "solves" this by demanding you spend points to carry a gun. I say bollocks to that; you might as well charge them for picking up a rock and throwing it.

My solution: The base cost gets an EB that does as much damage as a gun; each extra C points increases damage by 1. A complication in Two Fisted Tales, though, is that stronger characters can use bigger and better guns, and a point-build system should take that into account. So ultimately I came up with a cost chart that looks like this:be afraid, very afraid... )
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
In the early 80s I loved RuneQuest, like many aspiring RPG writers, for its delightful mechanical consistency and elegance of design. One thing I didn't like, however, was its "Battle Magic" system, at least in the first two editions. (Battle Magic was equivalent to Arcane in 3e D&D.) It wasn't how spells worked, in play, that bothered me, but how you learned them: You went to a local cult, gave them money, and *bang!* you could cast spells. I thought it killed the flavor of the game, to have magic taught by equivalents of the New School, and was happy when Avalon Hill changed this in 3rd edition.

Fast forward twenty-something years to 4th edition D&D. As I've said before, I liked how Rituals were distinguished from other spells (continuing the 3e trend), but after a bit of play I was dissatisfied. There are a number of reasons, but one is that it brought back Ye Olde Magick Market: You marched over to the Discovery Institute, paid them cash, and walked out knowing a nice new ritual.

[ profile] kokoinai pointed out that this market already existed in 3rd edition, which is true (and it existed in 2nd as well, in a different form). In those days, though, it was limited to wizards (Bards in 2e). I can accept the "spell market" for wizards -- they need to buy all those books, after all -- but extending it to clerics, shamans, and so forth seems wrong to me. What would be the alternatives?

One would be to simply give the latter classes their rituals for free, but that might put them at an advantage, money-wise. A solution -- for divine casters, at least -- may be to charge them a tithe, expressed perhaps as a fixed fee per level, and then give them rituals (and perhaps other benefits) for free. I would have no problem doing the same for psionic casters (since I identify them with Eastern ascetic traditions) but I'm not sure how to charge primal classes. Demanding a tithe from a shaman seems weird -- who would they pay? -- but there's no reason for them to have extra money in their pouches. Expect them to spend time "communing with the spirits," perhaps, on the time-is-money principle? I don't know, but I'd welcome suggestions.

Update: I just noticed that shamans don't get the Ritual Caster feat. Replace "shaman" with "druid" above, I guess.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
The GF had Pride and Prejudice on her shelf so I plowed through it in a couple days. I can't say I thrilled to every page but I found it surprisingly readable. (I was embarrassed to find Mr. Bennet derided in the novel, though, since he was the character I most identified with...) Don't know if I'll continue with the others, it depends on how far I pursue the Austen RPG idea.

I'm still not sure how an Austen RPG would actually play, so I'm starting with an easier task: Figuring out how to define characters. Naturally that would depend on the game mechanics, to a huge extent, but a first step would be finding ways to distinguish characters from each other, using as few dimensions as possible. Among the Bennet sisters:

  • Beauty. Jane is regarded as the prettiest girl in the neighborhood. Elizabeth is also attractive, while Mary is plain.
  • Intelligence. This may require more than one dimension: Elizabeth is clever. Mary is bookish, but not brilliant. Catherine and Lydia are foolish.
  • Propriety. Jane and Lizzy are proper Georgian ladies, while Catherine and Lydia are flirts, and Mary shows no interest in men at all. While this seems to match "Intelligence," memories of Sense and Sensibility suggest they should be kept separate.
  • Trust. Jane sees the best in everyone, while Elizabeth is more suspicious. (Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey would be at the low end of the scale, I suppose.)
  • Talent. While none of the Bennet sisters show much musical aptitude -- Mary sings badly, Elizabeth doesn't practice much -- I think other Austen heroines show some.
Some of these characters may have to be set for NPCs but not PCs. "Trust" for example could be established in play; "intelligence" tends to be high for all Austen heroines, and could be left out for PCs. Men, in addition, may have a completely different set of attributes. The question, though, is whether these are a good starting point.


kent_allard_jr: (Default)

August 2012

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