Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My White Box Thief

My thief class:

Experience, to hit bonuses, hit dice, and saving throw table are as cleric.

The thief practices agility and speed in combat, +1 to saving throws against anything the DM rules can be dodged.

Thieves typically favor light one handed weapons especially those that can be concealed (knives, daggers, one handed swords, light bows and crossbows, garrotes, spiked knuckes, etc...).  They also favor light armor - anything beyond soft quiet leather armor will hinder their skills.

The thief nets 7 skill points and gains 1 extra skill at levels 2,4,6,8,10.

Most thieves are chaotic or neutral, however, this class with it's strong focus on skills can be used to create a lawful scout/ranger/bard/skald type character under the DM's approval.  Bards and skalds (even a few thieves) study languages and sometimes even magical writing and have been known to carry a few scrolls to get them out of a tight spot.

*Now for a bit of explanation about my thought process.  My house rules thief is a slightly weaker fighter who has specialized in training his skills.  He gets no special backstab bonuses - anyone can stab anyone in the back, the thief trains in stealth and therefore has a better chance to do it using his skills.  While all the other classes can sneak, climb, etc.. the thief excels at these tasks from years of training.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Using the Simple Skill System

So I've got the rules for the skill system in place and description of what the skills do.  So before I move to other subjects I wanted to show a little bit about how I'm thinking to use the skill system in my game.

I'm planning to give players slots during character creation and then more during play.  I may change this as I go but this is what I'm thinking:

Fighter/Cleric(Druid)/Wizard - 5 slots at lvl 1 - 1 extra slot at level 3, 6, and 9

Dwarf - 3 slots at level 1 - 1 extra slot at levels 3 and 6 (Dwarves also get two craft slots for free)

Elf - 4 slots at level 1 - 1 extra slot at 4 and 8

Halfling - 2 slots at level 1 - 1 extra slot at level 4 (halflings also get stealth at +3 mastery at level 1)

I'm also working on a Thief Class based around this system.  I think thieves will have:

Thief - 7 slots at level 1 - 1 extra at levels 2, 4, 6, etc..

I may allow halfling to make a thief variant and elves to make fighter focused or wizard focused character.  I'll probably limit characters to no more than +2 training at 1st level.  

Example skill selections:

Fighter (ranger type) - tracking, Natural Lore - survival mountains, Natural Lore - Herbalism, Natural Lore - Animal, riding or natural lore - weather

Fighter (soldier type) - Athletics, Riding, Tactics, Body Development, heraldry

Fighter (bandit) - Athletics, Stealth, Streetwise, Survival, Deception

Fighter (horse warrior) - Riding (2), survival (sea of grass), athletics, tracking or possibly natural lore - weather

It takes me about 2-5 minutes to pick out skills for each type of character, however, I think it gives enough options to build really customized PC's with varied abilities.

***This is a rules system being developed as house rules for my own Swords and Wizardry White Box Game, the rules set developed by Matt Finch.  You can download a free copy of the rules here, but if you like them you really should buy a copy to support Matt, he is a really cool dude.***

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Skill Descriptions

Here is a quick list of how I'm planning to use the skills in my game:

Athletics - fairly straight forward, checks for swimming/climbing only in difficult situations

Riding - skilled riders can use bows from horseback, skill checks will be used for stunts while riding or riding in heavy combat etc...

Body Development - each slot in this skill gives bonuses to acts of strength or constitution, each slot in this skill nets the character 2 HP.

Stealth - used for sneaking, hiding, etc... obviously the target number will reflect armor worn, lighting conditions, ambient noise, etc...

Disguise/Deception - skilled thieves use this skill to lighten pockets, impersonate others, infiltrate garrisons, etc...

Mechanisms - this is the typical skill used to disarm mechanical traps, and pick locks.

Sailing - knowledge of sea craft and the ability to navigate them in open water

Engineering - the player should elaborate on what the character knows (building would net the ability to build siegecraft,  bridges, walls, castles and stuff like that, or a character might be able to have engineering skill to build fantastical inventions of the sort that Leonardo Da Vinci would make if he was in a fantastical world - limited by resources and time).

Healing - skill in first aid and treating wounds, illness, etc.. with setting appropriate methods.  Typically the use of this skill will accelerate healing and might allow for curing diseases.

Lores - these are too varied to go into detail.  In general modify the skill check by the difficulty of the subject and also the information available.  Access to a good or great library will make things easier than recalling something from ones past reading...  Some of these like alchemy might allow the user to craft special potions, healing draughts, poisons.  Tactics might be able to be used on the battlefield to counter flanking maneuvers etc...  Gambling might allow a character to cheat, or detect cheating, and to outplay an opponent in a game of skill/chance.

Natural Lores - see above.  In addition, the natural lores of survival will allow for the character to find important resources (water, food, shelter, etc...) in a specific setting (i.e. a desert warrior skilled in desert survival will be out of his element on a glacier or in the mountains).  Herbalism will allow for a character to identify toxic plants, find healing plants, and maybe have other effects in a fantasy setting.  Characters with weather lore might have the ability to detect and predict weather changes before others would.

Tracking, Influence, Trade - pretty self explanatory

Read Magic - this character has studied magical writings.  This skill is necessary for wizards and non-wizard characters should have a good reason why they know this (some cultures may train all their people to read magical writing or maybe nobles will train their children to read magic).  This skill can allow even non-wizard characters to read scrolls (with a chance of failure, modified by the character's skill level and the level of the spell - sometimes misreading a scroll will result in spectacular failures :).  Wizards can read scrolls with no chance of misfire.

Analyze Item - this type of character with time and proper resources to analyze a magical item and determine its properties.

Languages - characters can take skill ranks in languages (beyond what they normally get for their INT).  This may allow a character to learn a weird or ancient language (draconic, or demon languages, or maybe some lost culture).

Craft - this skill has many variants (smiths will be able to craft horseshoes, weapons, repair armor, make nails, etc..) BoyerFletchers can repair and make bows and arrows, brewers can brew up beer and spirits, there are lots of other good crafts (carpentry, shipbuilding, etc...).  GM's must rule what resources are needed to repair or create goods.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Simple Skill System

To start with I'm expanding on the idea I had back in 2010.  Back then, I wasn't planning to have specific skills - instead I imagined having players describe their background and then roll against that description using a simple d6 system modified by stat bonuses.

My new concept allows for way more customization of a character.  I'm designing this system with Swords and Wizardry White Box in mind; however, I think you could drop this into any game that is lacking a skill system.

Each character class gets a certain number of skill points during character creation.  Most classes will get 3-5 points (the thief class I'm thinking of will get way more points than the rest). I haven't decided the exact number of skill points to give out per class just yet.  I'll be covering this in another post.

Big Old Skill List:

Str - Athletics (covers climbing, jumping, etc..), riding, body development

Dex - Stealth, Disguise/Deception (Dex/Chr, covers pickpocketing), * Mechanisms(Dex/Int), *Sailing(Dex/Wis)

Int - *Engineering, *Healing, *Lores (pick one - Alchemy, Art, Astronomy, gambling, heraldry, tactics, poisons, etc..),  *Craft (pick one - Smith, armorer, boyer/Fletcher, brewer, butcher, mining, etc...)

Wis - Tracking, Natural Lore (Animal, Herbalism/Plant, Mineral, Survival, Weather)

Chr - Influence, Trade, Streetwise

Int - *Read Magic, *Analyze Item - both of these require a good explanation of why you would know them if you aren't a wizard!

Any skills with * mean that you can't attempt using this skill (defaulting to the stat bonus only) unless you have trained 1 slot in it.  Feel free to add additional skills or let players make up their own.

Competency and Modifiers:

All skill attempts use a single d6 die roll, modified by the stat bonus and the training bonus.  If the skill has two stats listed, take the average bonus and round to the next largest absolute value integer (round 0.5 to 1 and -0.5 to -1)

Each slot = +1 bonus

No slots = Untrained
1 slot = "skilled"
2 slots = "expert"
3 slots = "mastery"

For Swords and Wizardry, I'd cap skills to 3 slots until 10th level.  Beyond that I'd let my players go to legendary skill prowess.  For other game systems, the GM should judge how many slots are used.   You could also vary the die used, want more variation, substitute a d8 (or d7) instead of a d6!

With this skill system, never give players bonuses due to environmental circumstances.  Deal with bonuses and penalties in the target value, covered below.

Difficulty/Target Number:

The DM sets the difficultly of a task, including all environmental factors.  Most DM's are familiar with this type of roll against target number system and include any applicable factors.

2-3  = easy (I wouldn't normally ask a player to roll)
4-5  = moderate
6-7  = hard
8-9  = very difficult task
10   = near impossible
11+ = more or less impossible

Sometimes you may set the difficulty of fully completing the task so high a player can't ever succeed, but if they roll well (maybe a 5-6 on the d6) you could give them a partial success?

Also, if the difficulty is moderate ( 4-5) and a player with a +4 bonus, rolls a 1 or 2 on the d6, you may want to rule that they succeed but with a complication?

Keep in mind this skill system is supposed to be quick and dirty, let them roll, use your judgement and let them know what happens.  When letting players roll some skills, don't tell them what them what they are aiming for (just tell them "it looks pretty easy, you should be able to do this (difficulty 4)"  or "wow, this might be the hardest challenge you've ever faced (difficulty 10)".

Or don't tell them anything, give them the evil GM smile and say, "just roll the die"...

***This is a rules system being developed as house rules for my own Swords and Wizardry White Box Game, the rules set developed by Matt Finch.  You can download a free copy of the rules here, but if you like them you really should buy a copy to support Matt, he is a really cool dude.***

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Customizing Swords and Wizardry White Box

My favorite part about swords and wizardry is that it is so stripped back to the basics of DnD it allows you to mutate and change without worrying too much about interactions between pieces of the game.  Right now I'm DM'ing BX DnD for the tabletop (about 2 games per year) and running a full time PBEM Greyhawk Open Quest game with about 60 posts per month.  This game is now over 3 years old (it started with Castles and Crusades rules and now has mutated into Open Quest).

My buddies really want me to run another Forgotten Realms game.  I DM'd that game for about 10+ years using 2nd ed. AD&D rules and had a blast.  However, each time I pull out the game I get a little down about running due to the setting bloat.  There is so much information that my players know, it might be hard for me to say "I'm only using the 1st edition core rules box set as Canon".  Once you have to specify what is canon and what isn't your game really has too much bloat.  So anyway, I may go with that as a setting or try a home-brew world focusing on the things that I'm excited about in fantasy right now.

Anyway, while playing BX there were a few things that really made me think about changing systems before running the next game.  My players really prefer the ability to customize their characters.  I also thought that the 18=+3 stat bonus still puts a huge emphasis on having high ability scores.

So, for my next game I even thought about playing something other than DnD, maybe even sticking with Open Quest.  However, I really like to have something to tinker with at all times so in the back of my mind I've been thinking about house ruling the $H!# out of S&W white box.  I keep pulling out the paperback copy I have and reading it so often that the binding is already starting to tear (also partly because Lulu books aren't the best).

Here are the main things I'm thinking about:

1.  A skill system.  I know this flies in the face of Matt's Old School Primer, however, as I said above, my players really like to have crunchy bits to fiddle with.

2.  Maybe something like "Aspects" or "Risus Cliches" or perhaps a short 50 word description which can be used to justify the use of bennies or fate type points to give small bonuses to different tasks...  I want to tie character description mechanically to the game somehow...

3. I want to use all the dice.  White box really focuses on the d20 and d6 and mostly forgets about the other dice.  My other systems I tack onto the game are going to use all these dice somehow...

4. Maybe a critical hit or major wound table?

Those are the main things.  I've got little bits and pieces of these and I've also come up with lots of smaller little ideas (wizard cantrips, new spells, monster enhancements, etc...).  I think my next bunch of posts are going to start looking into these ideas and fleshing them out.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Folly of the Universal Die Mechanic

I've been reading through my various gaming books and I think I've figured something out.  I'm not a huge fan of "universal die mechanic" systems that have become the rage for almost all the new RPG's coming out.  I just bought and read through a used copy of Legends of Anglerre and I realized while the idea of relating nearly everything to an Aspect or Skill or Stunt is an incredibly flavorful idea at first.  I can dream up nearly anything (just like in the old FUDGE system that FATE is based from) put it to words, put it on the Terrible to Legendary ladder and roll on.

However, I think while this is really neat for short term games, the fun can wear off quickly...  suddenly you realize there is pretty much no mechanical difference between a fighter and a wizard or a noble.  One skill is treated almost exactly the same as all the others and all the powers a balanced under an elegant system.  Blah.

Maybe one of the reasons that original AD&D was so popular is that it was a massive tackle-box of all sorts of little rules systems.  It pretty much had all these "little games" inside of the big game.  All these different rules mechanics in the game gave all of us gamers things to love, but also things to disagree about.

In fact some of the early adventure modules took it so far as to have elaborate spot rules for handling chase scenes, maybe a little game mechanic to handle a siege combat or a ship on ship naval battle that would occur during the adventure.

Related to this I'd also like to chat a bit about my favorite game I've seen come out in a long time.  The DCC RPG by Goodman Games.  It is awesome.  I don't think I will ever actually play the game because the "inherent" game world and ethos implied by the rules isn't really the flavor I'm looking for in my fantasy games.  However, reading through the free BETA rules the thing I liked the most is the complete lack of any "universal die mechanic".  The game is a beautiful mess of jumbled rules systems and random effects tables.  In reading through it I was able to recognize the things that got me into this hobby in the first place.  No vanilla jazz music here people, just finger blistering heavy metal rock.

As wizards of the coast gears up to make 5th edition, maybe they should go back and review the obtuse and contradictory, jumbled rules systems that Gary and Dave came up with.  Maybe they should eschew elegance and embrace chaos.  Fourth edition made all the characters the same, and made nobody special.  Maybe this time around they should think like a 13 year old, figure out what makes each class or character unique.  Scream out the names of the nine lords of Hell!  Roll your d20's!  Make each class or profession special!  But then again, maybe I'm just crazy.      

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Landing on OpenQuest

So why did I pick OpenQuest for my go to d100 gaming system over all the other competition?

1.  I ruled out the Mongoose Runequest and Legend systems due to their use of hit locations.  I really didn't like that option.  I thought it was unnecessary complexity.  They do have some really nice templates in their SRD that I think would be nice to show players of any of these fantasy d100 systems since the ideas are mostly transferrable.

2.  I actually pitched the use of the Stormbringer games to my players but none of them were familiar with the Moorcock's work and so I decided it wasn't really worth pushing the issue.  I'm also not really a fan of the Elric type magic system.  It is really great in the novels, but I'm not sure it would play out the same in a tabletop RPG.

3. I thought about starting from Chaoisium's BRP system and customizing it to what I wanted, but then I really read through the Open Quest rules and realized almost all the options they went with would be what I would probably try.

So that was how I navigated through about 9 very similar d100 systems and landed on Open Quest.

There are a few things I would add to Open Quest if I was to play it at the table (instead of over PBEM which is how I'm running my Greyhawk game).  I would definitely bring in the armor dice ruling from Stormbringer. The idea that your armor could fail you if your opponent finds the right spot is really neat to me.  Of course I would institute the same system for monsters.

In addition, the magic system in Open Quest seems to have a few small holes that if I played this game at the table I think would come up.  First of all, I would heavily restrict the use of Magic Point stores (maybe a wizard could only be "attuned" to perhaps 3 magic point stores at any one time?  And it would take ~ 1 week to attune yourself to a new one?  That would stop the obvious hole whereby a wizard with substantial $ resources could easily create tons of magic point stores that would give them 100+ magic points at their disposal...  I'm already planning to institute this rule for my PBEM game if anybody decides to try and "game" the system.

But that would be about it.  Otherwise, the Open Quest is a fully stripped down, fast and furious version of the game that allows for excellent PC customization, but also good "balance" in which most characters can do a bit of everything which is really good for small gaming groups where you don't have enough people to cover all the bases for a game requiring high levels of specialization.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Fantasy RPG Wishlist

I've really been thinking about what attributes I'm looking for in my next RPG I'm going to bring to the table to play with my buddies.  They are all hovering around 7-9th's level in my BX game, and I'm guessing that the "Temple of Death" will be our final adventure with that group. 

So here is my list so far:

1.  No levels, and probably no classes - this means d20 is probably out.  For my next game that I run with the guys, I'd like to have a game that doesn't expect characters to change much throughout the gaming experience.  DnD rewards constant play with substantial character growth in ability.  I'd like a game where the characters start out competent and don't increase much in power over time.  This is not me bashing DnD, I love DnD, this wish is a result of the practical reality that due to my life and situation I only game at the table for about 12-15 hours/year.  

2.  Character health/damage will be tracked by "wounds" which will have mechanical effects on gameplay.  I'd like wound tables something like Rolemaster's Arm's Law or Stormbringer's Major Wounds table.  Maybe no hit points?

3.  Improvement system that allows for customization of the character in packets but doesn't have steep level bumps (see point #1).

4.  Magic system will have room for unexpected (good & bad) effects - this should make it more "magical".

5.  Character creation should be quick,  character driven, and customizable. 

6.  I'm contemplating the idea of having no cleric type class.  Maybe only herbs and medieval surgery?  This might be out though since I'd really like to use my 1st edition Forgotten Realms box set as the setting.  I purchased "City System" and "FR1 Waterdeep and the North" off ebay and I'm contemplating running an FR game with just those three canonical resources.

I'm doing a lot of research right now trying to find something that fits this bill, or gets me close enough  that I can houserule it to get it the rest of the way.