Posts Tagged ‘ game play ’

More Thinking about Skills

A couple of days ago, I meandered through a post about Negative GMs to reach some basic ideas about a skill system for Swords & Wizardry. By the end of that post, I’d taken some inspiration from Barbarians of Lemuria and had also put together a list of things that a skill system should not include. Here’re what a skill system should be without:

1. Skill lists
2. Heat that melts special snowflakes
3. “No!” as the default answer
4. Any more than minimal modifications to Swords & Wizardry

BoL uses 2d6 for task resolution. The success number is always 9 or better, and certain modifiers apply to the dice, most of the modifiers providing bonuses. The task’s difficulty may apply a negative modifier. On 2d6 without modifiers, about 28% of rolls are going to end up 9 or higher.

For a S&W skill system, I’m leaning toward 2d12 since d12s don’t get enough table time. To get as close as possible to 28% success rate on 2d12 without modifiers, the target number is 16 or 17 or better (25% chance versus 31.25% chance, or a difference of 3% versus 3.25%). Since I like to make tasks easier rather than harder, let’s use 16+ on 2d12 for now.

So far, so good.

But (and There’s Always a Big But)

BoL‘s task resolution modifiers don’t mirror those available in S&W. In the former game, a character’s 2d6 roll will almost always be modified by an ability score and a combat (when fighting) or career rank (when not fighting). That could result in a +6 modifier for even a beginning character (+3 from an ability score and +3 from either combat rank or career rank). For 2d6 aiming at 9+, that’s a huge bonus that bumps the success rate to about 97%.

To mirror the effects of a beginning BoL best case scenario with S&W on 2d12, a 1st-level character would need about a +12 bonus. S&W characters don’t have these sorts of bonuses because S&W isn’t built with the same game engine as BoL. So, what does a 1st-level S&W character have that can be retooled for bonuses?:

1. Ability scores
2. Character class
3. Race

S&W doesn’t have careers like BoL. Character classes are sort of like careers, but not really. Sure, a fighter should be skilled at doing fighter things (such as bivouacking, riding, being intimidating, and repairing armor), but what if your fighter is also a pirate? A noble? For determining what a character can be skilled at, it seems as if character classes are more limiting than careers.

BoL‘s list of careers include alchemist, assassin, barbarian, beggar, blacksmith, dancer, farmer, gladiator, hunter, magician, mariner, merchant, mercenary, minstrel, noble, physician, pirate, priest, serving wench, scribe, sky pilot (!), slave, soldier, thief, torturer, and worker. That’s a pretty exhaustive list.

I like BoL‘s career concept. Every character starts with four careers and four points to divide between those careers. No career starts with more than 3 points allocated to it. A 0 career rank indicates basic training in that career. The careers themselves represent what the character did before he became an adventuring hero. Importing a career system into a game with character classes, however, presents certain difficulties.

For example, could a fighter (character class) have been a thief (career) before he became a fighter? Sure. Does that mean a fighter (character class) with a thief (career) in his past should be as good as a thief (character class) at doing thiefly things? Hardly, because that would melt a special snowflake.

Even if my WIP skill system facilitates a fighter do thiefly things, that thiefly fighter should not be better at those tasks than a thief (character class). A career like magician is even more problematic. I mean, anyone at least try to sneak, but not everyone should be able to cast spells.

I need some time to digest all that thought food.

Task Difficulty & Success

I like having a static target number for task resolution. It seems to make things easier. The player rolls the dice and applies modifiers. Is the total 16 or better? Yes? Success! No? Not success!

Of course, not all tasks are equally easy. A system with a static target number needs difficulty modifiers (which even a system without a static success number is going to have). I’ll take my cue from BoL, adjusting modifiers to account for the change from 2d6 to 2d12:

Difficulty: Modifier
Easy: +2
Moderate: +0
Tricky: -2
Hard: -4
Tough: -8
Demanding: -12

I’m also considering degrees of success based on the task resolution total. Right now, in my mind, the degrees look something like this:

Task Total: Degree of Success
16 or higher: Success. The character does what he set out to do.
14-15: Success, But. The character does what he set out to do, but with a complication, such as the task taking longer.
Below 15: Failure. The character does not do what he set out to do.

I want to introduce critical successes and critical failures as well. I’m looking at a natural 21-22 being a success with a minor benefit, and a natural 23-24 being a success with a major benefit. A natural 2-4 would be a failure with an additional complication. Monte Cook’s interesting Numenera proves inspirational here.

Anyhoo, that’s enough for now. Time for other activities while these ideas simmer beneath the surface.

November 29th, 2013  in RPG 1 Comment »

You Can’t Do That!

Ever hang out with a child that has learned that he too can say, “No!”? Delightful, isn’t he? Ever play with a GM that has the same propensity? Fun, huh?

Fortunately, most GMs, like most children, outgrow the “No!” stage. Those that don’t, GMs and children, end up being rather unpleasant as adults, which has its own consequences, such as a lack of players (for GMs) or a lack of friends (for adults in general). Oh, sure, there’re probably players who tolerate Negative GMs, but probably more out of a wrong-headed sense of gamer solidarity than a genuine desire to put up with such nonsense.

I’ve encountered Negative GMs a few times over the years. How about some examples to better illustrate what I’m talking about?

Example the First

Many years ago, I was playing in a Forgotten Realms adventure. The GM described how monsters approached rapidly from a distance, obviously intending to attack us.

“How far away are they?” asked a player.

“Do you have the Estimate Distance nonweapon proficiency?” asked the GM.

None of us had that nonweapon proficiency. I’m pretty sure none of us even knew there was such a nonweapon proficiency.

“No, you can’t tell how far away the monsters are,” the GM said.

Example the Second

Even more years ago, I was playing a 1E game, running my paladin Karras the Damned. We were defending a fort from a horde of evil humanoids, ogres, and giants. We were seriously outclassed, but at least we had the advantage of the fort’s defenses. Even still, the horde eventually battered down the gates and flooded into the yard.

“Karras ducks into that narrow hall and attacks the hill giant after it passes him,” I said.

“No,” said the GM.


“You’re a paladin. You can’t attack by surprise.”

Example the Third

Just to show that the problem isn’t always the GM, I offer up an example of the Negative Player. I was running a D&D game. The PCs were fighting a pitched battle on the topmost storey of a large tower. Flying monsters were setting fire to the roof over their heads.

“My character wants to get out onto the roof to fight the flying monsters,” said a player.

“Okay,” said I. “How?”

“Um, he could lean out a window, swing his rope and grappling hook up, and try to latch onto the roof. Then, he could climb up.”

“No,” said the Negative Player. “That won’t work.”

“Really?” said I. “How come?”

The Negative Player launched into a pedantic monologue about gravity, arcs, and roofing materials. I felt sorry for asking.

Jim Butcher Weighs In

At the last Space City Con here in Houston, Texas, author Jim Butcher offered a couple of sessions about writing. When deciding the outcome of a conflict in a story, Mr. Butcher opined that there are only four options available to the writer:

1. Yes
2. Yes, But
3. No
4. No, and Furthermore

Since roleplaying games are a form of shared storytelling, it stands to reason that these four options ought to be available to GMs and the other players. Notice how the possibility of three options other than “No!” could apply to each situation above. For example, in the first example, the GM could’ve said, “Yes, you can estimate the distance to the monsters, but your estimation won’t be as accurate as if you had the Estimate Distance nonweapon proficiency.”

So, you might be wondering, what’s the point, Mark?

Skill Checks for Swords & Wizardry

I like Swords & Wizardry. I also like systems for resolving skill checks, such as determining if a PC can jump across a chasm, identify a monster by its tracks, or repair a suit of armor. On the other hand, I don’t like skill lists. Lists, by their very nature, limit options because no list can account for every possibility. The list’s limitations may end up being the PC’s limitations as well (“Sorry, you can’t tell how far away something is because you don’t have the right skill.”).

On the same other hand, I don’t like skill systems that melt a class’s special snowflakeness. Thieves get to be sneaky, pick locks, and find traps. A skill system that lets other classes do those things steps on thieves’ toes. But, that doesn’t mean a fighter or a wizard can’t be sneaky. A GM ought not simply declare, “Your fighter cannot hide in the shadows or move quietly. Those are thief abilities, and fighters don’t have thief abilities.”

Ergo, what I want for Swords & Wizardry is a skill system that:

1. Doesn’t involve skill lists
2. Doesn’t melt special snowflakes
3. Doesn’t say “No!” as the default answer
4. Doesn’t require modifying Swords & Wizardry any more than minimally necessary

Swords & Wizardry, Meet Barbarians of Lemuria

BoL uses a single dice mechanic for all action resolution. For skill-type checks, the player rolls 2d6 + the PC’s relevant ability score + the PC’s relevant career ranks. Any result of 9 or higher is a success. For example, a PC wants to appraise a gem. The player rolls 2d6 and adds the PC’s Mind and merchant career ranks. (BoL includes possibilities for really bad failures as well as really good successes, but I’m not worried about critical results at the moment.)

A PC may also have boons or flaws. These present situations in which a PC is particularly good or noticeably bad at certain tasks. Either way, the player rolls 3d6 instead of 2d6. For a boon, the player picks the two best dice. For a flaw, he picks the two worst dice. Everything else stays the same.

In order start grafting this sort of system onto Swords & Wizardry, it seems as if I need some careers, a dice mechanic (I’m leaning toward 2d10 with a target number of 15+), and perhaps some sort of boon/flaw mechanic. I’ve got some basic ideas, but I need to put some more thought into them before I take this concept any further.

Until then, good gaming!

November 27th, 2013  in RPG 5 Comments »

Reverse Inspiration

In case you were wondering (and I know you were), I’m not just making up the Vance-style names for the spells and magic items I’ve done in recent days. Nay, nay. Instead, I’m using this great list of randomly generated Vancian spell names. Therefore, coming soon:

Valfoxell’s Adventitious Pretense
Kolando’s Prohibitory Suspense
Biderukic’s Dense Salamander
The Pattern of Gallant Commerce
Pieritz’s Aqueous Apprehension

I’m kind of digging the challenge I’ve posed myself. Usually, when I make up a new spell or magic item or monster, I start with the concept, work out the stats, and then come up with a name. Using these random names scrambles that process around, and sort of forces me to think outside my usual patterns.

It’s a long weekend for me this weekend as well. No work on Monday. Well, that’s not quite accurate. I do have work to do on Monday, but I’m not going into work to do it. Got assignments to grade, lessons to plan, et cetera. Here and there, I also want to get all five of the random names above turned into something for Swords & Wizardry. I also really need to update the Obsidian Portal site for Man Day Adventures’ Amazing Future Tales. I’m chronically behind on that project.

What’s more, I’m running an All-Hallow’s Eve session of Little Fears. I wouldn’t normally run an evening game on a work night, but 1 November is All Saint’s Day, a holy day of obligation, and I’m taking that day off. Regarding the session I’m going to run, I’ve only got the vaguest of outlines done. I need a bit more than that done before I can run the game.

Speaking of Little Fears, a few weeks ago I secured permission from my administration to start a story game club at Aristoi Classical Academy in Katy, Texas, where I am in my fourth year of teaching 5th grade. I typed up flyers (see the pic above). I talked with my class and a few other students in other classes about what story games are and how they work. I bought a copy of Little Fears (autographed by the author!). We had a our first meeting on Tuesday, 24 September. Five students were in attendance. We made up Little Fears characters, and then started the first story. I’m planning on writing up the session as a narrative. I’ll post it when I get done.

October 12th, 2013  in RPG No Comments »


Last OwlCon, I played in an Arabian Nights-inspired adventure that used Barbarians of Lemuria for the rule system. It was quite a hoot. Our characters explored a lost jungle island, fell victim to the machinations of the serpent people, and alternately engaged in fleeing in terror and fighting for their lives. As the session came to an end, we got to “epilogue” about what happened to our characters after the adventure.

I narrated briefly about how my character, who had killed the ship’s captain during the adventure, managed to set himself up as the new ship’s captain, much to the delight of the crew and the gaggle of wenches being entertained by my character’s tale of adventure. Every other players did the same for their characters, and then the GM added his own epilogue, revealing an unexpected twist. In each case, the epilogues could serve as plot hooks. So, if that session were not a convention game but part of an ongoing campaign, the GM could use my epilogue to explore another sea adventure with my character as ship’s captain.

I liked epiloguing so much that I added it to both sessions of Stars Without Number I ran at OwlCon. It seemed to be a big hit with the players. Best of all, at the end of the session, I had one potential plot hook per player, plus the epilogue that I added as the GM. (I remember one of my two GM epilogues describing the lost space yacht shifting out of warp near inhabited space while on board the Cthulhoid horror in the form of a long dead mother comforted her long dead son.)

I remain intrigued by epiloguing.

The basic idea is simple. After an adventure is over, each player gets about two minutes to describe some of that adventure’s consequences as they relate specifically to that player’s character. Each player does this, taking turns in whatever manner seems appropriate. Then, after all the players have epilogued, the GM gets to add his two cents worth. The events of the epilogue are assumed to happen during the downtime between adventures.

Unless things go horribly awry, Man Day Adventures meets again this Saturday. I don’t know if we’ll get an entire adventure done that day. I’m thinking not, but, regardless, I think I’m going to introduce epiloguing to the group and see what happens.

Might be fun.

September 17th, 2013  in Man-Day Adventures No Comments »

Random Wizard’s Questions & My Answers

A few other people were answering the Random Wizard’s Questions (example and example), and I just can’t help being a hardcore conformist, so here’s my stab at the queries.

(1) Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?

I’d prefer them to be an option but not a requirement. If someone wants to play a halfling as a class rather than a halfling thief (or vice versa), why should I care?

(2) Do demi-humans have souls?

All living things have souls. The real question should be what kind of soul? Immortal or not? Rational or not?

(3) Ascending or descending armor class?

I’m happy either way. THAC0 is just BAB with a different name.

(4) Demi-human level limits?

I’m happy either way. If I’m the GM, I’d likely not use them.

(5) Should thief be a class?

Duh. I’d get rid of magic-users before I got rid of thieves.

(6) Do characters get non-weapon skills?

Not necessary, but I do like to have a skill resolution system even if there aren’t defined skills in the game.

(7) Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?

I’ve never really understood the argument that magic-users are the most uber of classes. Are they powerful? Sure, even at 1st-level, where sleep is a game-changer. For one encounter a day. Maybe. There are simply too many variables to say that, all things being equal, magic-users blow fighters out of the water.

(8) Do you use alignment languages?

I have used them, but not since 1E.

(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc…)?

I reject the fallacy of the false dilemma. My answer, “Yes, please.”

(10) Which is the best edition: ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next ?

I have no experience at all with 4E or Next, so I can’t say for sure. I have a fondness for the earlier editions, but which one’s the best? I don’t know. Best at what?

Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?

I have no real preference.

July 29th, 2013  in RPG No Comments »