When is a bonus not a bonus?

I don’t know what started me thinking about this, but I did. Anyway, to answer my question:

  • When it is  neccesary. It is explicity stated in the AD&D PHB that a character that doesn’t have bonuses in at least two stats is unplayable and should be rerolled. Everything changed with that. Bonuses became necessary due to a sort of “false economy” that the rules established. It was like every design after that, whether it was monsters, rules additions, or adventures, was based on a “Holy shit! These characters are more powerful then they used to be! We have to ramp this <whatever> up!”
  • When the bonus is the stat. I like this in systems where the bonus is what matters most. In every edition of D&D, since AD&D 1E, the stat proper has just been a scale to determine the “bonus”. Other than the cobbled-together mess of NWP, stats really do not matter. Some games have stats based solely on bonuses. Talislanta was the first I saw do that, back in the latter half of the ’80s. It isn’t really a popular paradigm, but at the same time it isn’t hard to find. The very cool Dungeonslayers comes to mind.
  • When the stat itself is integral to the mechanics. In games like Errant the stat becomes a target number in a roll-under mechanic. I think it works quite well. I don’t have a problem with roll-unders. Some folks do, though. The problem with basing the mechanics on the stats is that it must be a roll-under to really work. Then, to make a roll-under work in a logical fashion, the stat has to be modified, not the roll. We are so used to modifying the roll that modifying the stat is a bit of a pause. The alternative is to reverse the application of bonuses, such that a negative number is a “bonus”. That is just too counter-intuitive to simply overcome. It takes work to wrap your mind around that.

On the whole I prefer either the roll-under or bonus-as-stat designs. They just make more sense. Also, remember, there were virtually no mechanics attached to stats in OD&D, at least officially in the LBBs. The supplement Greyhawk quickly rectified that, but as conceived, stats carried no intrinsic benefits. I suppose they existed as a means of comparison.  I just know I definitely do not like the notion that a character is simply unplayable and/or undesirable with a shortage of bonuses. Especially when they are statistically difficult to come by. Couple that with the fact that the creatures and encounters are designed to challenge characters in possession of such bonuses, and it is an exercise in frustration to try to roleplay a character that is merely average.

Ailoria Update

I’ve done some work on the Ailoria map. I’m going for a hand-drawn, old parchment look. I’m pretty happy with the land mass/islands and the water. Not so much the mountains. I know they are just a bit too big, but there is something else I can’t quite put my finger on. I’m not real crazy about those city symbols, either, but so far they best match the style I’m shooting for. I need to get serious about finding some more map symbol brushes. I also need to flush the ones I’m not using. GIMP can really get slow with loading when you have a shitpot of brushes.

Speaking of which, I have also installed some hex mapping brushes. I plan to use those with Welsh Piper’s Hex Mapping Templates, and Hex Based Campaign Design. I’ll post those as they come up as well. I’ve taken the coast outline from my scanned hand-drawn map  and pasted it onto the world template. I’m actually pretty happy with how it sets up on that template, as far as climate zones and overall scale goes. It really sin’t much to see, so I doubt I’ll be posting it. It was just for my reference. If anyone does want to see it, though, I’ll be happy to share.

About my reviews

Since I’m doing more reviews of late, I wanted to make note of a couple of things. One is that I will probably sound like a gushing fanboy in most of them. This is because I only intend to review things I like. My time is too limited to devote to a thorough reading of something I’m not even enjoying. I barely have time to read what I do enjoy. Also, one man’s pain is another man’s pleasure. I would hate to turn someone away from a game they might enjoy. I’ve read plenty of games that got bad reviews, but I loved them (I still think there’s a lot of good stuff in Powers & Perils, for example). Another thing about negative reviews, I don’t want to throw shit at someone else’s work. Whoever wrote thought it was a good idea. Who am I to take that from them?

The other thing to keep in mind about my reviews: They are reading reviews only. I do not have a group to guinea pig these things on, so I have no experience with them in play. I’ve played a lot of games and been in the hobby a long time, so I have a fair idea for how the written word will translate to the table. That being said, unless I explicitly state otherwise, my reviews and impressions do not reflect actual play experience.

There it is, then.

Errant RPG from Chubby Funster

Here, it is, the “thing” I mentioned. It is the Errant RPG, by independent game designer Greg Christopher. Ina nutshell, this is an outstanding game. It is a free download, click the image to go to the site (I’m loving WordPress already, I could never figure out how to make blogger do that).

OK, so what about the game, besides being free, makes it so outstanding? Quite a few things.

Before I go any further, I must point out that the die mechanic here is roll under, in all situations, including combat. All modifiers are applied to the target number, NOT the roll. I saw a comment somewhere about modifying the target putting the onus on the referee, whereas modifying the roll put it on the player. The person making the comment feels that will speed up play, since the player only has to announce his roll, rather do any math. I’m not sure I agree with that. Either way, the math is getting done. The only real advantage to modifying the target is that it supports the roll-under mechanic in a logical way. Pluses are still bonuses, and minuses are still penalties. It keeps things from being confusing.

I’m not sure which label to apply. OSR, supports old-school style play, simulacrum, whatever. I’m not real handy with labels. It reads like it will be old school in deed, if not in word. It has the classic six attributes, and they pretty much do the classic things. They are determined in the classic way. There are a couple of additional “stats”, Luck and Karma.

Luck is a metagame feature, as is typical for things of this type. Starting Luck is rolled on 2d6, and may be modified by race. It’s use is interesting. Luck can only be used with a d20 roll, so it can’t be used to reroll damage, for example. When it is used, the player adds the character’s Luck value to the target number. If this raises the target number over the failed d20 roll, it becomes a success. (Remember, this is roll-under, and modifiers are applied to the target number.) Then, the player must subtract one from his available Luck. Pretty simple.

Karma is this game’s answer for Alignment. It ranges from -25 to +25. Most folks hover right around zero. The extremes represent extremes of Good and Evil. The number fluctuates based on the character’s actions. Interestingly, changes to a character’s Karma are decided democratically by the players at the table. They nominate each other, debate the degree of Karmic shift, and vote. In the right situation, this should be really cool. A group that has shades of dysfunction, rules lawyering (since they like to bitch over details), or whiny little munchkins may have problems. Likewise, small groups of only 2 or 3 players, unless mature gamers, could run into issues. The Karma rating comes into play with things that are dependent on the relative Good/Evil of the subject in question.

Hit points are handled a little differently. They are rolled pretty much as you would expect, based on class and level. They are explicitly stated to represent the character’s ability to endure physical hardship. They represent fatigue and minor scrapes, cuts, and bruises, most often. Once they are depleted, shit gets real. When HP are at zero, subsequent damage is taken against Attributes. Not a terribly new idea, right? Well, in Errant, they are taken against random stats. Each time the character takes more damage, another randomly determined stat takes a hit. Gritty, brutal, and delightfully evocative. Once a single Attribute reaches zero, the character is dead. Obviously, you won’t be hacking at goblins until one of their Attributes hits zero. Such third-tier creatures and NPCs are dispatched at the end of their HP. I almost forgot to mention: there is a chance Attribute damage can result in scarring and permanent injury. Good stuff.

I was intending to do this in one post, rather than the multi-part series I’ve done in the past, but there is too much more I want to say. I don’t want to gloss over anything and leave someone with a misconception. This game really is worth a look, and I would hate for hurrying the post to leave someone with a wrong idea about something, and that keep them from checking it out. So, until next time . . .

Welcome to the new digs

Welcome to all of you that stay with me and make the journey to the new realm. I’m not sure what happened with blogger, it just went “dark” on me. I’ve been wanting to try out WordPress anyway. I just didn’t because . . . well, I guess I already said why I didn’t. So, here we are. It may take me a few days to get settled in and get this place looking familiar (I was happy with how I had things arranged in blogger). I found something new right under my nose that I’ll be reading and giving my impressions on soon. It’ll be the first “official” post here, so don’t go far.

Viscious Cycles

After all these years, I’ve identified a basic pattern to my ADD. It isn’t universal. My lack of focus doesn’t always follow this pattern, but I have identified this as one way my focus shifts.
For example, right now I am working on S&S for Alternity. I’m trying to keep real changes to the system to a minimum, limiting additions, and not adding any sort of mechanics unless unavoidably necessary. In short, I’m trying to keep it simple, which is true to the old school.

However, it is work. It does involve conceptualizing things, tweaking, twisting, and re-spinning certain aspects. Additionally, these modifications will need to be explained to anyone playing (which is a purely academic point for me, at this time), rather than just having us all play from the same book we all know. (We, in this case, being a complete hypothetical, of course.)

So, from all this angst will inevitably spring a desire to get back to something simpler and more pure. Typically, this leads me to S&W WhiteBox. I love that game. The elegant simplicity just sings. Then, I start actually thinking about doing something with it. It is at that point that I see all of its holes which I will need to patch.

Which brings me around to thinking that if I’m going to be doing all that work to make WB play S&S the way I want it to, I may as well be using Alternity as the foundation . . .

Full circle.

Alternity S&S Magic Hazards

What follows are my preliminary ideas for the hazards of magic use in an Alternity S&S game.

Magical power is an addictive thing. Once tasted, the lust for it never goes away. Any time a caster’s power or ability increases the player must make a Compulsion Check. If this check fails, the character’s Compulsion modifier, which begins at 0 increases one step.
If the character is ever faced with the opportunity to increase his prowess, and the player wishes to pass on the opportunity, a Compulsion Check is made against the character’s WILL. If this check is unsuccessful, the player must attempt to obtain the object of the Compulsion. This could be a spellbook, enchanted object, rare ingredients, or magical formula. Anything that could result in the character being more powerful is fair game.
Note that fulfilling the Compulsion is not a suicide mission. If the object of desire is well-guarded or otherwise inaccessible, the character will plot and scheme ceaselessly until he works out a plan for acquiring the object. It is an obsessive Compulsion, though, and will dominate his every thought until he owns it.
Magical power was never intended to be wielded by men. It is corrupting, damaging to a caster’s very humanity. Too much contact with the forces of magic will eventually render the caster a twisted, mad creature, no longer human.
 Casters have an additional Trait, Humanity. It starts at one-half WILL. Each time a casting roll attempted, successful or not, the player must make a Corruption Check, against the character’s WILL. This roll is always made with the Control Die only. Each time it is failed, the next roll is made with a +1 per failure. If the roll fails, the character’s Humanity drops by 1. If the sum of the roll + modifier is 20 or more, the character has acquired an Arcane Taint, selected from the following list:
Negative Aura*
Animals and children react negatively to such a character. Animals and children will never react favorably to such a character and may react very negatively.
 One of the character’s normal physical features becomes disfigured. It is disturbing and discomfiting to look at, but not supernatural or unnatural. Affects Interaction Broad Skill.
 The character finds it very difficult to win the trust of NPCs. Affects Culture, Interaction, and Leadership Broad Skills.
 The character’s physical being is becoming weakened by constant exposure to magic. Affects all Strength Skills, plus Endurance.
An unnatural form of disfigurement. This could take the form of a cloven hoof replacing a foot, an obnoxious odor, eyes of unnatural hue, claw hand, or anything else that isn’t natural about the human body. Affects all Personality Skills.
Odious Personal Habit*
The character develops a personal habit that is so bad it negatively affects his interactions with others. Some examples could include arguing with oneself very loudly, refusing to bath, “nervous” speech patterns, insistence on neurotic behaviors, etc. The possibilities are endless. This affects all Personality Skills.
 The character has become a creature of the night. Any activity undertaken in daylight suffers a +1 Step penalty.
The character has become insane. This is difficult to nail down and should be worked out on an individual basis. No matter what, though, it is bad.
Each time an Arcane Taint is gained it causes a +1 Step Penalty to the associated ability.

Odious Personal Habit
The character develops a personal habit that is so bad it negatively affects his interactions with others. Some examples could include arguing with oneself very loudly, refusing to bath, “nervous” speech patterns, insistence on neurotic behaviors, etc. The possibilities are endless. This affects all Personality Skills.

The character has become a creature of the night. Any activity undertaken in daylight suffers a +1 Step penalty.

The character has become insane. This is difficult to nail down and should be worked out on an individual basis. No matter what, though, it is bad.

Each time an Arcane Taint is gained it causes a +1 Step Penalty to the associated ability.

Alternity for S&S: Initial Thoughts

(I wasn’t going to post this, and just keep these notes here as a back-up. I think, though, that I will post them. If I keep them as back-ups I’ll delete them and this design history will be lost. I find it very beneficial to trace the genesis and development of these things, especially when I get off track or need inspiration. Please forgive me if these “designer’s notes” are a little more stream-of-conscious than usual. That’s just how I roll.)

Broad skills for the types of magic as in ZeFRS. They are “free”, point-wise, but each comes with Compulsion. This is not a Flaw in the traditional sense, and does not grant bonus points. I’m not sure what it is, beyond the cost of learning magic. At any rate, Every time a sorcerous character increases in magical power (such as improving his broad skill, learning a new spell, unlocking the mysteries of an enchanted item, etc), he suffers a permanent one-step penalty to the roll. Compulsion checks against WILL whenever the character is presented with an opportunity to increase his power and ability.

Spells should be pre-defined rituals, except for Summoners. They command demons to their bidding.

The Cost of Doing Business I want to study up on the cyberpsychosis rules to see about using them as a model for how sorcerers lose their humanity as a result of trucking with dark forces.

All spells are rituals, to some degree. Some are relatively quick, some may take days, but none are able to be cast in combat. Sorcerers employ a variety of tricks and tactics to bring magic into combat, but no matter how the trappings may differ, mechanically, it all comes down to the same thing:

A Focus is an item enchanted to be a receptacle for spells. There are an endless variety of Foci. Some examples are:

  • Knotted ropes
  • Wands
  • Staves
  • Corked jars
  • Flash paper
  • Rings of power
  • Crowns or helms
  • Crystals

Pretty much anything, as long as it is of sufficient quality can be enchanted to hold at least one spell of modest power.

As a general rule, the more spells that are attempted to be placed into the focus, the more likely it will be destroyed in the attempt. Each spell increases the chance of failure, it isn’t some flat rate. The relative power of the spell also has an effect.

Obviously, combat is not the only instance where a sorcerer may need to bring magical power to bear in short order. There are many other foci, such as those used in divinatory magic, that are designed for uses other than combat.

That’s it for preliminary thoughts. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so I want to keep the core systems as intact as possible, reskinning where necessary.

ZeFRS Wrap Up

I finished reading ZeFRS this afternoon. Essentially the rules finish up with fairly standard chapters on Hazards (such as falling, fire, and poison) and Life in an S&S World (largely an economy and equipment chapter). These final pages were fairly predictable. They are virtually the same in every game because that’s just the way it is. There is very little innovation to be eeked out of an economics chapter (The Riddle of Steel was the last I’ve seen with its unique and quirky way of handling specific countries’ currency based on weight of precious metals contained). That’s not a knock against ZeFRS, just a fact of game design. One of this type of coin equals this many of that type. It hasn’t changed much. Likewise, hazards. Basically, the hazards chapter for any game simply shows how to plug said hazards into the damage system.

ZeFRS attacks its subject with all the gusto of a northern barbarian. It very exuberantly dives in, seeking to take its new ideas and forge a new type of gaming experience. Unfortunately, it ends up being like a bad teacher. We’ve all had somebody try to teach us something they are very passionate about and knowledgeable in. They’ll explain it in a very quick and cursory fashion, and not understand how we didn’t “get it”. It is so obvious to them, they can’t conceive of it being less so to someone else. That’s how these rules struck me. I love how dangerous and risky the magic system is intended to be. But, other than the excellent Obsession rule, how do I translate those ideas into a playable system?

By the end of the book I realized something. The rules are chock full of fresh, innovative, and new ideas. Ideas that were indeed ahead of their time. Now, 27 years after the release of the rules ZeFRS is based on, their time has passed. There are a lot of systems that have taken a lot of those ideas (but not Obsession, for some reason) and refined them. All these ideas need is a well-explained system to plug them into and they will shine like the jewels of Atlantis. A system where damage is realistic, combat is gritty and dangerous, and magic poses a very real threat to the very soul of anyone who even dares to learn how to do it, let alone actually casts spells.

It makes me want to bolt these fantastic ideas onto Alternity. Don’t groan, I’ve not made any bones about liking the system. I think it could pull it off. In fact, it seems there are certain ancestral ties between Alternity’s resolution mechanic and the ZeFRS color chart. They both feature degrees of success based on the resolution roll. I know they aren’t the only two rules systems to have that sort of feature, but I recall reading somewhere that there are design ties between the two. There are a few Alternity-to-Fantasy things floating around. I need to look at some, I think . . .

Ailoria: A New Map

This is a hand drawn sketch (obviously) of a new setting/world. I was waiting for my wife at an appointment she had Saturday morning, and it just came to me. It’s going to be a gritty, S&S themed thing. I feel awkward over what to call it. I hate calling it setting because that, to me, connotates something designed as a backdrop for a specific purpose. I don’t feel comfortable with world either, because obviously, it isn’t. Besides, I know me, if I start calling it world, then I’ll feel compelled to venture beyond the confines of this map. I want to keep my efforts focused here.

Anyway, I’m going to develop it along the lines of the small-kingdom concept I discussed in this thread. I’ll also be trying out the Welsh Piper’s Hex-based Campaign Design.

Speaking of it being gritty S&S, I’ve come to realize something. I don’t want pure, true-to-the-sources S&S. I want an S&S style, but I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I still want some classic D&D tropes. Some. For example:

  • I don’t want the chief adversaries to be limited to humans. I want monsters.
  • I don’t want to have to make up some horror lost to time, in order for the adventure to truly have a monster
  • At the same time, I don’t want to have to consider the implications of orcs having their own nations. Monsters exist, but mainly as antithesis to civilization and the forces of Law. They are the Bad Guys, and are not to be trusted.
  • Lastly, I want to allow for good, old-fashioned dungeon crawls. I don’t want every adventure to be a case of sneak-in-without-getting-caught, grab the loot, and run-out-before-we get-killed.

So, there it is. This will be my design log, which I’m sharing in hopes of getting feedback that will help me do this the best I can. This map is the starting point. I’m going to port it into GIMP and try to pretty it up. That will be submitted for comment, as well.

PS> The name is pronounced EYE-loria.