August 26, 2012

From Barbarian Prince and Other

While formally considered moreso a boardgame than an role-playing game, and solitaire at that, both the setting and game play of Barbarian Prince follows through with fodder for fantasy RPG goers.

After a thorough read of the game's manual, and a good look-over of its map, I was left almost too inspired to borrow from it. Maybe even lift some of its design. Given its solitaire nature, the player is immediately aware of much meta-information; he has to. And it's a good play of honesty to keep on trudging even when he rolls up something nasty, such as a killer curse or the loss of all his party members, and many other things.

Meta-gaming information was never much of a secret I've murdered to keep off the table. It could be things such as knowing how to kill zombies or vampires. A certain genre savvy nature is often expected and enjoyed by all, whether it's the motives of robotic clowns or the party's non-player. So how does this relate; look no further than the concept of the role-playing game. I wouldn't for the life of me spill a monster's stats and abilities, but things such the powers of a sword are preferably given (to the possessor).

The magic items of Barbarian Prince, by design, follow this. But not only did they know what the item could do, but also what it was worth to certain NPCs. In a way we can begin to see the assumed lore behind objects in a setting, without going through a heap of exposition from the Referee.
Video games from the NES on to early 3-D platforms had it 'all there in the manual'. They needed too, because the game couldn't actively describe or detail items in-game, but still wanted, or needed, to explain an object's purpose in its world. Maybe the influence of these older games comes off too readily for me, but good consideration for why it is sometimes beneficial to let at least a little on for the players.

Meta-game information varies between groups, and often how little or much is allowed can also set the mood of a game, but sometimes even a little will benefit everyone. Especially if they can avoid taking too much advantage of it. Scare them with new stimuli and subvert the old to keep it fresh, if you need to.

Returning to the magical items of the game in question. A mechanic that excited me, and one often excluded in fantasy artifacts (ignoring wand charges), is the chance of burning out. Instead of an arbitrary number assigned, we find each use garnering either a 1 in 6 or 1 in 12 chance of running out of juice (or being destroyed). And just about all magic items use this mechanic (except swords); and can reduce the likelihood of defaulting on the item to snatch success time and again.

By no means an 'item', but certainly an item; the True Love that can be scored by the prince is both an invaluable asset to his adventure, and an under-used, seldom-seen trope of fantasy adventure. Given the NPC-ish nature of the prince's party, this is the one person he can rely upon, even if her activities are randomly determined. Not only this, but a love triangle can form that muddies up the affair, losing the benefits while it persists. She provides a bonus to Wits & Wiles, (woman's good senses, no doubt). Other NPCs offer similar benefits (such as negating the penalties of Reactions with elves, or worsening them with a dwarf). And in all it really expanded the horizon for what Non-players can bring to the party for me, especially if the players available are fewer than wanted. The idea that they aren't just extra hands/swords, but can improve conversations as advisers, among other things. I don't mean as in the Referee talking as them, but as more passive improvements to the players' activities.

The Events booklet provides a great swath of ideas for adventures, encounters and even what sort of event forks could open up between them. The map too is an easy grab.

Hopefully my bestial writing hasn't hidden the values I've intended to place in this document. All the same: Barbarian Prince is interesting mechanically and setting-wise; items and the meta-game; NPCs and the unspoken, but ever present benefits they provide.

For those parties interested: Barbarian Prince is available for free download.

August 22, 2012

The Place of Shields

Traditionally, the lowly shield garners a basic bonus to Armour Class, as needn't be explained here. The problem many outcry is simply how little an impact one of the most useful tools of war has, in foot melee in the realm of Fantasy Role-play.

The shield is cried to uselessness, after all, it's guaranteed the higher-level monsters will beat non-modern AC practically every round of combat. Some are fine with the small bonus of a shield, given that getting hit is so inevitable, but that the bonus is still useful against the more common and mundane foes expected to combat in the original game.

How can we fix or circumnavigate this issue? Simple; a new mechanic, and one that is very simple. But is it really necessary, especially when combat is supposed to remain abstracted by game design? What would a chance of blocking individual blows mean for this concept? especially when it would apply equally to the already disputed nature of arrows and bolts in the abstract combat (should we exacerbate the problem further?).

For some time now, how I've run shields is a bit different from the norm, so I shall make them known. Shields provide a bonus of +1, as the norm, though wooden, hide, and wicker faces do not benefit plate armour, instead requiring a metal shield (preferably kite). Without other armour worn, shields count as AC7, and tower shields as AC6 (normally complementing armour by +2 AC). Archers' shields and other small types counted as normal shields, except without bonus against missiles. Shields could be worn across the back for their bonuses against rear attacks.

This original effort varied their place somewhat, but it still was mostly aesthetic. There wasn't a strong effort to make shields too good in the game, considering the other options available to Fighting Men; two-handed weapons rolled two dice, taking the better with +1 in Hits; and using a second one-handed weapon to deke for a +1 To Hit. So I couldn't lean too much favour. This changed somewhat with the design of offensive shields (tweaked from the tail sweeping mechanic I gave dragons).Shield-barers (excluding bucklers) could opt out their shield bonus to bash with the shield, and any time a '6' turned up, the roughly-man-sized and smaller foe was flattened and stunned for one round. Tower shields did so 1/3 of the time.

Now, this finally brings me to my point and suggestion for shields. Keeping them with their +1 bonus (or dropping it), any hit against a shield-barer is reduced to minimum damage (1 if 1-6, 2 if 2-7, etc.) 1/3 of the time (rolling a 2 in 6 chance). Tower shields could do so 1/2 the time. It's simple, elegant, and best of all, continues finding more uses for those sexy six-siders. The reason it doesn't outright negate an attack's damage is to reflect the savagery the guy behind the shield is feeling regardless. A missed roll to reduce could be seen as not bracing his shield arm well and getting battered around, even if the shield is being hit.

I'd like to thank that Paladin in Citadel for inspiring this post.

For those interested in that dragon attack; the tail swipe was randomly determined (and depended on how the party was fighting it), and dealt one die of damage per age category (!), chopping all in a certain radius (distance in inch spaces by category). Every time a '6' turned up for each person hit, was how many rounds he was stunned and flat. I wanted very dangerous dragons, and the older ones could batter down wooden walls and swaths of forest with ease, so be wary.

August 20, 2012

A Shout-Out: Hulks & Horrors

As misfortune would have me, I've not even a modest sum to donate toward Hulks & Horrors, but all the same, here's a call out to my humble audience that they might support Hulks & Horrors, if not tell others about it.

Here's the jump coordinates.

A Little Something For The Eyes

I don't believe I've much referenced any such capacity in myself here, but occasionally as fancy strikes me, I draw. This is both in traditional and digital mediums. My plan has been for a while now to eventually make a sister site, under the title of 'Cobalt Blue'. There I would display various works of both fantasy and science-fiction both.

All the same, while I do consider my strength moreso to be with a simple Bic pen, I've rather enjoyed my hand with a program called Painttool SAI. Below is the most recent piece, and I trust you hobbyists will enjoy both the visual and subjective values.

Click to Enlarge.
The image is best viewed at 100%, and now folks, the world finally gets to see what I envision Mind Flayers to seem. And for those wondering, both my avatar picture and banner are elements from other illustrations of mine. In a future time, both will be made available to see; either here or at the aforementioned web log.

The pencil and pen drawings will not make an appearance 'till after I acquire a scanner that doesn't butcher the image quality.

August 8, 2012

Curiosities From Times Gone: The Ultimist

Whether a method of satire, or merely innocent of intentions, The Ultimist character class Gygax put up for Polyhedron Magazine is something else. By design it is absurd, and below I shall leave it for your humor.

Not only does the character have minimum requirements (a common feature of AD&D), but it also gives great bonuses to make sure they are met, and then after the rolled scores are modified to greater values. We also see that the character fights as Fighting-men do, cast magics as a Magic-user and Cleric both, and no less does it possess the skills of a Martial Monk and can foil devices as does a Thief (without needing tools)! And by merit, it seems the fellow needs half experience gains as does a Fighting-man to advance in level.

Better still, we find out on the second page the filling for the cake. Each level the character gains nets him 100 "Spell Points", of which at first level he's got 100, and can cast 100 First Level Spells per day, I josh you not! Maybe in EGG's games First Level Spells are diddly-squat, but that's still a whole lot of diddly! The character also comes with a schwanky Bag of Holding from the get-go, among other things and from 1,000 - 4,000 gold pieces fresh off the press.

So, my few readers; satire, or honestly-considered-good-idea? If nothing else, the picture's a good chuckle.

August 6, 2012

Returning from the hills...

... I came baring a trite little beast known as Pathfinder. Yeah, that game.

Been preparing to move off and away, but in the meantime my little group introduced me to Paizo's game by way of a burlap DM-flavoured sack.

A curious game; similar to 3rd/3.5 in most aspects; but it does away with some of my gripes for the aforementioned games, all but one. One problem that always remained: the hurdles and hoops the Referee must contort through. It's a good game for players, but in my experience, an unnecessary mess for the one running it. Challenge Ratings, point budgeting, and what-have-you.

The majority of my DM/GM/SM/etc. experience comes from the older games, systems, and from even the retro clones. These (as I'm sure I needn't explain) games were quite easy to implement new races, creatures and stuff worth Experience Gain without issue. Especially after a good read through 'Encounter/Adventure' design philosophy as it appears in the Three Little Brown Books, and from forum personalities (mainly WaysoftheEarth from OD&D Discussion Board!). Stocking environments was easier than ever, as was determining damage and EXP gain by Hit Die, and other concepts.

Returning to stat-generating and skill-giving of every damn creature, after such an absence is very disheartening. No longer can I just make something improvised-like and still be fair about it, and quite frankly, it appalls me that I can *will* get caught making things up by the players in the newer systems. Because they can just as easily point out conflicts with modern encounter design, and even argue total Challenge Ratings with me, and act as if I've cheated them. Hell, I remember being chewed out for having to make up stats for monsters (lost their statistics PAGE) as battle was provoked, and barely survived to flee. Not that attacking an entire cult of Hero-grade (level 4+) Druids had anything to do with it.

The Encounter (read: Experience) Budgeting especially pulls my nails. It should be the Referee's own right to place down a troll cave (compleat with defenses), even if the 1st level party thought it was a good idea to walk past the warning signs.

Diggin' that they got rid of those ludicrous level adjustments for Player Characters.  There's too many by-the-book types (of the younger generations anyhoo) and, what if someone wants to play a Lizardfolk or some other creature at Starting Level 1? Wouldn't happen in 3rd/3.5, no sirree!

That is all.