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:

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.

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
Eldritch Blast
Fire Bolt
Green-Flame Blade
Lightning Lure
Mage Hand
Magic Stone
Minor Illusion
Mold Earth
Poison Spray
Produce Flame
Ray of Frost
Sacred Flame
Shape Water
Shocking Grasp
Spare the Dying
Sword Burst
Thorn Whip
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:

Mage Hand
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.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bard, Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard vs Magic User

I like to imagine the BDSWAW half of this argument as a kung fu movie and the magic user half as an action movie.

In a kung fu movie each punch and kick has meaning. This is because each motion is indicative of a particular style. For example if you see Jackie Chan swaying drunkenly you know you're in for a drunken boxing movie; it would be weird if he whipped out a sword and started cutting fools down because that isn't indicative of drunken boxing. However in a movie like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, this is totally cool because sword fighting is indicative of that particular branch of Chinese martial arts.

5e handles its multitude of magic users the same way. You won't expect a bard to do non-bard things (or is it un-bard?). Each class has it's particular brand of magic and they stick to it like a martial artist sticks to his preferred style.

The magic user of lotfp or b/x style games is more like an action star. Action movies pay no heed to styles or martial arts. The motions are divided into simple chunks. Punch, kick, shoot, stab, etc. No one watching an action movie will care if Arny punches a dude with a first shaped like a crane; it's more about the punch than the fist. Likewise the magic user has a variety of spells available; this would be his punches, kicks, shoots, stabs, etc.

Where to draw the line? Personally I prefer bards, druids, and wizard/magicians. Bards at least inspire role-playing (I'm one of those dms that makes you utter couplets!) and druids because they can turn into badass animals and have their own distinct flavor far from regular wizards. You could argue the same for warlock and sorcerer but I find their distinction minute at best. (Why? I'm not sure but the authoritarian in me says it's right.)

For my butchering of the 5e spell lists I'll have to collapse the warlock and sorcerer spell lists into the other three. This could lead to some interesting lists. Eldritch bards? So metal

Friday, May 5, 2017

Redefining 5e's Ritual Spells

5e Magic is designed to be used inside the "encounter." Therefore you have a big list of superfluous damage spells that do damage for no reason other than to do damage. You have combat trick spells that serve no other purpose than to inflict a status, disadvantage, or some other hindrance.

This is incredibly video-gamey, or at the very least war-gamey, and when compared to other magic systems, its dull and boring.

Take for example the magic system of the book Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Susanna Clarke enshrouds the idea of magic with an aura of mystic wonder. She accomplishes this mainly by making magic interact with the world to a degree that causes dissonance to those who witness it. Magic makes a fleet of ships out of rain that baffles the French navy; animates statues inside an ancient cathedral that spook theoretical magicians; gives a bird's eye view of a small fleet in the Mediterranean to impress their admirals, and parleys with the otherworldly to bring someone back from the dead in order to gain the favor of the prime minister.

Call me old-fashioned but i find Clarke's kind of magic more interesting than lazer beams and energy balls.

So lets fix 5e magic. Lets get rid of the superfluous damage spells and the combat tricks and make it mystical and wonderful. But first I want to tackle ritual spells as i feel they are a microcosm for the way 5e treats magic.

For those out of the loop a ritual spell in 5e is as follows:

Certain spells have a special tag: ritual. Such a spell
can be cast following the normal rules for spellcasting,
or the spell can be cast as a ritual. The ritual version of
a spell takes 10 minutes longer to cast than normal. It also doesn't expend a spell slot, which means the ritual version of a spell can't be cast at a higher level.

Whoever designed this mechanic is basically telling spellcasters, "There's spells in the game that probably aren't good enough for your DMs perfectly balanced encounter so don't sweat the spell slot over it." But whoever designed this failed to consider that since magic is so combat-oriented in 5e is that those players wouldn't prepare ritual spells in the first place because they are indeed not good enough for encounters.

Now with that out of the way just think about the word ritual. What do you picture? Do you see that scene from Temple of Doom? (Kalimah! Kalimah!) Do you think about the red lady dancing around Jon Snow, resurrecting him? Elrond hovering over poor Frodo, whispering in elvish to stay the morgul curse? Do you picture the Na'vi from Avatar swaying and chanting to transfer that white guy's soul to his Na'vi body? You probably imagine those and then some.

The point is the word ritual evokes scenes.

So lets redefine ritual spells. First of all rituals are no longer a "tag". Now they are a new class of spell: a ritual is a series of steps that when enacted cause magic. Unlike most spells they can't be prepared; they have to be discovered, studied, and practiced in order to be cast.

Let's take a look at one:

Identify—a spell for learning the extraordinary or boring properties of the object in question

Materials Needed: Sand, a mirror, and the object in question.

Step 1: Place the object in question upon an appropriately sized mirror. (Size is important! A hand mirror will not do for a great sized claymore, for example.)
Step 2: Sprinkle the sand into four piles at the mirror's four corners (or around its perimeter if it is circular) while incanting. Step 3: Place the hands upon the mirror and utter the last incantation.

Results: The sand will crawl along the surface of the mirror like ants from a hill and combust, leaving behind words burnt into the mirror.

Explanation: These words were written by the powers that govern the object in question and this ritual called them forth to clarify what the object is and its purpose. The words might be unfamiliar, archaic, or foreign; but they surely describe the object.

These words might reflects the object and the powers that govern it. For example a British longbow may be accompanied by a Iambic Pentameter or a Spanish dollar by a satire, each in their respective language of course.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Notice Me Senpai: A 200 word rpg (maybe not really) for weebs and anime nerd alike

What you'll need: letter-making materials (the cuter the better), and friends (preferably one of them is enveloped in zetsubou.)

The roles

Senpai: you do nothing but exist. Hopefully you have a mailbox of some kind. You're seemingly ordinary but all the kawaii kouhais think you're pretty kakui. Your sad or depressed. Maybe you lost your job or your Senpai turned you down. Either way you have a platoon of deres lined up to cheer you up. So Sit back, exist, and enjoy some sweet love letter action.

Kouhais: There's several kind of kouhais. (See below). All of you are absolutely enthralled with Senpai. You want nothing more for him to recognize the unrequited love you send him and cheer him up when he's in despair.

The Rules
This is a love letter making game. Whoever last wrote a handwritten letter gets to be the Senpai first. The rest then pick a kouhai and write their love letter to Senpai. When all letters arrive, the previous Senpai chooses the next one. This can continue for as long as you like! There is no win scenario or anything like that. The only real rule is that all letters must be written in the style of the kouhai the player chose.

Types of kouhai:

If you want to be random about it roll a d8...baka.