Sunday, June 4, 2017

13th Age character write-up: Barbarian

Another 13th Age character; this time a hot elf barbarian chick!

Althana Wurmscale
13th Age's Barbarian is billed as the easiest and rule-free class to play. I can't help but agree. Their lists of "moves" only includes Talents. Simple enough so I'll get started.

Wood Elf Stuff:
Elven Grace (each turn roll a d6; if it's less than or equal to the escalation die you get an extra standard action and increase the die by a step)
+2 Dex or +2 Wis.

Barbarian Stuff:
Hit Points: (7+Con)x3
Total Feats: 1 adventurer
Class Talents: 3
Ability Bonus +2 Str or Con
AC: 12 (Light)+middle of Con/Dex/Wis+Level
PD: 11+middle of Str/Con/Dex+Level
MD: 10+middle of Int/Wis/Cha+Level

Now Ability Scores:

16
16
14
10
8
8

(I used the point buy system here.)

Now I'll distribute them and factor in the bonuses:

Str: 16+2(class bonus)=18
Dex: 16+2(race bonus)=18
Con: 14
Int: 8
Wis: 10
Cha: 8

Now I'll plug it all in:

Hit Points: 27
AC: 15
PD: 16
MD: 9

Now it's time for gear: 1 Greataxe, a (half) suit of chain mail, and 40gp.

Now I'll figure out the rest of my options

Talents: Building Frenzy, Slayer, Whirlwind
Feat: Toughness
Backgrounds: Wurm slayer (+2), wasteland survivalist (+2), pit fighter (+4)
Unique: I am destined to take the Elf Queen's heart
Icon relationships: High Druid (1+), Elf Queen (1-), Orc Lord (1-)

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That about sums it up. So the complete Althana Wurmscale looks like so:

Str: 18
Dex: 18
Con: 14
Int: 8
Wis: 10
Cha: 8

Hit Points: 30
AC: 15
PD: 16
MD: 9
Basic Melee: +4, 1d10+3
Basic Ranged: -
Talents: Building Frenzy, Slayer, Whirlwind
Feat: Toughness
Backgrounds: Wurm slayer (+2), wasteland survivalist (+2), pit fighter (+4)
Unique: I am destined to take the Elf Queen's heart
Icon relationships: High Druid (1+), Elf Queen (1-), Orc Lord (1-)

Upon her birth the stars proclaimed that Althana would take the Elf Queen's heart. Whether she would take it romantically or physically is lost in interpretation. Regardless, Althana spent her youth wondering the wasteland with her tribe, preying on the colossal wurms native there, until they were attacked and overrun by marauding orcs. The orcs captured Althana and threw her in their fighting pits. Little did they know that their entertainment forged Althana into a furious warrior. One day she escaped and not only swore vengeance on the orcs for their transgression but also to fulfill the prophecy the stars with witch the stars burdened her.

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Commentary
I hate to say it but I'm starting to like everything about 13th Age that doesn't have to do with the core of the game, i.e. the Icons, Backgrounds, and Uniques. This level of character creation just doesn't rub me the right way.

Players literally have a smorgasbord of options presented to them upon character creation and in my experience that does more to repel players than it does to attract them (unless they're that far in, of course.) I'd rather just roll Ability Scores, distribute them optimally depending on my class and get into the meat of things. No equations. No averaging.

My beef here isn't with min-maxing. You can min-max and still roleplay. My beef is that this system seems so convoluted that it's beyond playable. Not to mention a majority of the powers revolve around combat.

I've always disliked systems that revolve around combat. Not because I dislike combat or think it dissuades roleplay, or anything of that sort. But when your mechanics center around combat so much you're pretty much required to include it in your games unless no one minds blowing 15 minutes creating a character.

I'm just ranting at this point. Regardless I'd still like to run or play 13th Age.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Thoughts on Progression and Player Choice

I've been concerned with character generation lately. More so concerned with character progression and the concept of player choice within class features. By class progression I mean how classes change overtime via gaining experience and levels. By player choice I mean significant choices players can make to effect their class and gameplay.
Here's a graph representing how I see class progression across three games: Lamentations of the Flame Princess, 13th Age, and D&D 5th edition.

Lamentations is probably the most simple and straight forward. No player choice at all; it's a straight line to the top baby. However specialists, magic users, and clerics have some form of choice. The first gets skill points. The second and third get more spells. However I'm not sure if this level of freedom fits within my definition of player choice. Player choices should feel significant and effect gameplay and I just don't feel that the choices offered by these classes is either. They feel more like an illusion of choice, i.e. you're making a choice that ultimately doesn't matter.

13th Age is probably on the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Lamentations; choices are abound. For some classes the choices are tiered; Talents are different from Maneuvers witch are different from Feats which are different from etc. etc. The choices here are significant because they basically let you cheat. Missed an attack? Nope! Roll you're weapon damage anyway. However you only get to do it once per combat which I think is fair. Upsides are that each player's character feels unique; even if you lay up two barbarians next to each other they'll probably be very different. Downsides are the big lists which bring min-maxing to mid. Which feat is the best? Which isn't? And that kind of thinking can be unwanted at the table.

5th edition does something unique in that it doesn't eliminate player choice at all and it doesn't overwhelm players with dozens of options. Instead at a certain point it makes you make a decision and you're set on that path permanently going forward. This lets players explore their options without feeling overwhelmed nor does it let them feel oppressed by being stuck on a single path. Good Stuff.

My ideal game would fall somewhere in between 13th Age and 5e. I love the customization of 13th Age but don't care for the big lists. At the same time I like 5e's method, but would love to experiment with customization more.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

13th Age Character write-up: Styles the Human Fighter

In order to better understand 13th Age's character creation system, I thought I should actually create a character and I figured I should work through it here.

First a character concept. I've been watching a lot of Age of Sail historical fiction lately so lets rip a character from the Horatio Hornblower series: Styles.

Styles is a big, dumb, brutish sailor with a loyal heart; however trouble likes to follow him wherever he goes.

Ain't he a darlin
First of all Race and Class.

Humans get +2 to any ability score and a bonus feat. Therefore they start with two feats as opposed to one. They also get the Quick to Fight racial power which gives them advantage on initiative rolls

Fighters get +2 to Strength or Constitution, 3 talents, and 3 1st level maneuver. They have the following base stats:

Hit Points: (8+Con) x3
Physical Defense: 10+middle mod of Str/Con/Dex+Level
Mental Defense: 10+middle mod of Int/Wise/Cha+Level
AC: 10+middle mod of Con/Dex/Wis+Level. (Armor isn't that useful against muskets and pistols so I'm using the unarmored base here.)
Now I'll roll up Ability Scores:

10
11
14
12
13
11
Mostly average. But hey he's only a sailor in the Queen's navy (for now at least.) Now I'll distribute them like so:

Strength: 16 (+2 from Human racial bonus)
Constitution: 15 (+2 from Fighter class bonus)
Dexterity: 11
Intelligence: 10
Wisdom: 11
Charisma: 13 (he's got a pretty smile)
Now that I have the scores lets turn those base stats into combat stats:

Hit Points: 30
Physical Defense: 13
Mental Defense: 11
AC: 10
At this point lets go ahead and figure out Style's basic attacks:

Melee: +4, 1d8+3 (cutlass)
Ranged:  +1, 1d6+1 (hand crossbow reskinned as a flintlock pistol)
Now I'll figure out the rest of the fighter stuff by choosing talents and maneuvers: 

Talents: Cleave, Power Attack, and Tough as Iron. Styles is a sailor fighting the enemy on slim frigates so Cleave is nice for those situations. He's also big and tough so Power Attack and Tough as Iron fit nicely.
Maneuvers: Carve an Opening, Grim Intent, and Brace for It. Styles is a big brute so all his maneuvers focus on dealing extra damage and avoiding death in the process.
 Now I'll figure out Style's one unique thing. I'll keep with the big brute theme and say his father was an ogre so Style's is the only half-ogre in the Queen's Navy.

Now I'll define his Icon relationships. Style's is loyal to his duty and the Queen but he's prone to trouble. We'll give him a 2 point conflicted relationship with the Emperor (the Queen in this case) and a 1 point negative relationship with the Prince of Shadows since his crimes land him in jail most of the time.

Now I'll figure out Style's background. I've got eight points to distribute among his backgrounds. I'll say Styles had a few criminal careers in the past that didn't turn out great and his parents probably taught him a few things; his mother taught him basic alchemy and his father taught him how to hunt:

Criminal: 4 points
Alchemist: 1 point
Hunter: 3 points
Lastly I'll chose Style's two feats. I'll chose Toughness since he's so big and strong and upgrade his Tough as Iron for the same reason.

And that's it. So in full form my Styles looks like this:
Hit Points: 34
Physical Defense: 13
Mental Defense: 11
AC: 10
Basic Melee Attack: +4, 1d8+3
Basic Ranged Attack:  +1, 1d6+1
Talents: Cleave, Power Attack, and Tough as Iron.
Maneuvers: Carve an Opening, Grim Intent, and Brace for It.
Backgrounds: Criminal 4, Alchemist 1, Hunter 3
Unique: the only half-ogre in the Queen's navy
Icon Relationships: Emperor+-2, Prince of Shadows-1
Feats: Toughness and Tough as Iron (A)

Things to Hack from 13th Age

I just bought the 13th Age bundle from Bundle of Holding. Here's a list of mechanics I think worth hacking.

  •  Icons: In 13th Age Icons are billed as the most powerful npcs in the world and there are 13 of them. They are compared to factions and clans in other rpgs. But what makes them neat is that the pcs form relationships with these icons, grounding them in the setting and helping the setting come to life. The icons are so general that it would be easy to reskin them for your own setting and there's no reason you couldn't add your own icons or subtract from the current list.
  • Ability Score Bonuses: Builds are my bane and its no lie that racial ability score bonuses are a building block for min-maxers. The main problem with racial ability score bonuses is that they pigeon-hole certain races into certain classes (i.e. the dwarf fighter or cleric). 13th Age fixes this problem by attaching ability score bonuses to race and class. So if you want to be a dwarf wizard you don't have to feel dumb because you can choose your +2 bonus to Constitution or Wisdom and still get the same bonus to your Wisdom or Intelligence.
  • Damage and Armor Class based off Class: I've heard of this concept before but never played with it. I'll be honest I still haven't figured out how 13th Age handles this mechanic. Each class entry presents lists of armor and weapons. I'm not sure if a player is supposed to pick one kind of armor and weapon or if they have both lists at their disposal. Regardless its an interesting mechanic and I look forward to investigating it.
  • Physical Defense and Mental Defense: 13th Age boils down saves to Physical and Defense. However they are not saves in the regular sense. They function more like ac in that an opposing roll must meet or beat your physical defense or mental defense. Each class starts with a base for each and adds the middle modifier of three ability scores. For example with modifiers +3, +3, and +1 the middle modifier is +3. I like this a lot but it seems like a nightmare to convert; more experimentation needed.
  • Uniques: Each pc starts with "one unique thing" about them. This unique is billed not to be an ability or superpower; it's meant to be the fulcrum on the pc's story line or character arc. One example is "I am the only human child of a zombie mother". Good stuff.
  • Backgrounds: Instead of using skill points or proficiency bonuses 13th Age lets a pc distribute 8 points among various backgrounds they might have had and apply those points to a skill roll that applies to the various skills that background required. I like this a lot. It's easily gameable and it dissuades playing by a character sheet. My only grief is that 8 points seems like to much. Albeit a single background can only have a maximum of 5 points; that still seems too high for my tastes. Worth playing around with.
  •  Feats: Now I know what you're thinking. Eew feats, right. But 13th Age treats feats more like moves a la Apocalypse World style. Most feats are attached to class but their are general feats and racial feats. You get 1 at first level and another one every subsequent level. What I like about this is that you could have two barbarians at the same table and they could be completely different. However this is quite buildy and most feats are combat oriented. On the other hand there's nothing wrong with player choice as long as their choices aren't game breaking and bloaty. Or maybe not....I don't know.
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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Things to Hack from The Black Hack

I finally downloaded The Black Hack (TBH) and here's a list of mechanics and rules from it that I'm thinking about hacking into my version of 5e.

  • Armor points: "Once a player or monster has used armor to adsorb its maximum amount, they are too tired or wounded to make effective use of it again—they then begin taking full damage." Maybe not as is from TBH but a variant of James Young's Wear and Tear mechanic. I'm thinking armor types have different thresholds of damage and when those thresholds are surpassed the armor takes a notch.
  • Attribute tests: Instead of factoring in proficiency and strength or dexterity, every action is a simple "roll d20 under attribute." Could be expanded upon with Zocchi dice. Might be too groundbreaking for 5e. Needs more consideration.
  • Movement & Distance: breaking distance up into Close, Nearby, Far-Away, and Distant suits my theatre of the mind style more and can easily be represented with minis, index cards, etc.
  • Encumbrance: using strength as a measuring stick for inventory is intuitive and effective. Plus it promotes a slots style of inventory management a la Lamentations. Diminutive items take up no space while Oversized items take up two.
  • Usage Dice: speaks for itself. I love this mechanic.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Creating Character Background with Story Cubes

A long time ago my aunt showed me her set of Rory Story Cubes. At the time I had aspirations of becoming a writer and immediately fell in love with the cubes. I quickly bought a set for myself, followed by two more, and got to work writing nonsensical stories starring the faces of the dice. Skip ahead a few years and the writer dream was shelved along with the story cubes. I had completely forgot about them until a few days ago when I discovered them after a session of 5Sing my apartment. So naturally I got around to applying them at the gaming table.

My particular collection is distinguished by three colors:


Black is the original set that my aunt showed me. They don't have a particular theme.
Blue is all about actions and movements.
Green is all about "Voyages". I'm not sure what that means but its got cool looking treasure on the faces.

Now before I can get into making backgrounds with these cubes, a prior knowledge of the Heroic Journey is required.

Basically each set of story cubes corresponds with the first three steps in the Hero's Journey.

The first step is the Call to Adventure. This is the person, event, or thing that spurred the character to leave his home in the first place to go adventuring. It could be a skeleton in the closet fell out; an urgent letter; or a panicking cousin pleading for aid. I use the black set for this step.

The second step is the Refusal to the Call. I interpret this step as to why the character can't go back to his home and ordinary life. It could be debtors hounding his back; a passion killing; or some other event not related to crime. I use the blue set for this step.

The third and final step is Supernatural Aid. This is something or someone that aids the character on his journey. However its purpose doesn't have to be immediately obvious. It could be a lucky charm; an old neighbor friend; or the blessing of a long forgotten god. I use the green set for this.

And that's basically it. Roll three dice of different colors and divine away!

Here's a few examples to illustrate how this mechanic works in action:


As you were about your daily life a giant tortoise approached you with a mushroom in its mouth. It plopped it at your feet and to your surprise began to speak to you. It warned you of the coming curse and said the second ingredient for the cure rested in a far off land. Then you awoke from the dream. You discovered that the mushroom was in your hand and that your entire village was trapped in an eternal sleep.

One day a magician visited your village with a cart full of delicious looking food in tow. He offered the delectables to you all. However shortly after everyone's consumption you discovered that you all had been struck blind. With a tut the magician said, "I must have missed something crucial," and scribbled something. He placed a pair of spectacles on your nose and you vision was miraculously restored. "Unfortunately that was and will be the only pair in existence," he told you, "Come! I'll need your assistance to fix this mess and perfect my divine delicacies!"

You received a letter. The letter warned you that you would murder your neighbor and try to hide the body. Dismissing it as slander, you threw it away. A week later you awoke in your bedchamber covered in mud and blood with a shovel across your chest. A raven perched on your window seal cawed "Follow! Follow!" before fluttering away into the distance.

Like with any divination the meaning behind these symbols is in the eye of the beholder. Let yourself and the player interpret the cubes and together pick what sounds the most interesting or convenient for your game.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cantrips can take a hike

I've decided to get rid of cantrips in my 5th edition games. There's no real reason behind the removal other than I don't like cantrips but lets try to divine one anyway.

Let's take a look at all the cantrips:

Acid Splash
Blade Ward
Booming Blade
Chill Touch
Control Flames
Create Bonfire
Dancing Lights
Druidcraft
Eldritch Blast
Fire Bolt
Friends
Frostbite
Green-Flame Blade
Guidance
Gust
Light
Lightning Lure
Mage Hand
Magic Stone
Mending
Message
Minor Illusion
Mold Earth
Poison Spray
Prestidigitation
Produce Flame
Ray of Frost
Resistance
Sacred Flame
Shape Water
Shillelagh
Shocking Grasp
Spare the Dying
Sword Burst
Thaumaturgy
Thorn Whip
Thunderclap
True Strike
Vicious Mockery

The cantrips marked with red text are purely meant to do combat damage. (Notably they also have some form of combat trick.) Those in blue text are combat tricks, i.e. their purpose is to impose advantage/disadvantage or manipulate combat to some degree. In other words wargamey stuff. Finally green text stands for cantrips that permiss an otherwise out of control ability that must be bogged down with clauses in order to maintain "balance".

If we eliminate these three types of cantrips from the list we're only left with:

Light
Mage Hand
Mending
Message
Minor Illusion
Spare the Dying

Admittedly I actually like these cantrips because I think they are simplistic enough to be taken advantage of by a quick-witted player. However I think the list is too small to keep cantrips as a mechanic alive.

So let's try something different.

Let's say that magic users can perform the miracles outlined in these cantrips at will by right of being magical. A magic user can call forth a ball of light. She can summon an ethereal hand, fix a broken wheel with no tools, implant messages in the minds of others, and create sounds and images that aren't present currently.

Likewise lets say that clerics can spare the dying through touch alone. (Unless they're evil. Then they're touch probably makes things die quickly.)

The cost for these miracles shouldn't be too high. In a spell slot system I imagine they wouldn't cost a slot at all. If spell points are being utilized, 1 point seems sufficient.

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