Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Spirit of the Force Part 5: The Dark Side

I wanted the dark side of the force to be tempting and the struggle to remain true to the light side to be ongoing. I'm not a fan of GM fiat being used to determine when the dark side of The Force dominates a character's destiny. Also I did not want to use yet another dark side point system.

FATE 3.x's composure track becomes The Force track:
  • Resolve lengthens the track as normal.
  • Gain a free FATE point or +3 shifts per tick.
  • If a character takes a dark side consequence they get two free FATE points per tick for the scene.
  • Taken Out equals full and total conversion to the dark side.
  • May only carry three consequences at a time.
  • Consequences may be compelled!
Dark side consequences do not just go away after a conflict. They are a burden to the Jedi and must be atoned by ritual or through conversation with a master.

It's interesting to see Jedi characters being challenged by Sith who jeer and taunt their very way of life causing stress to the Jedi's composure track. Little by little the Jedi players become more and more tempted to tap into the power contained within the composure track so they can strike down their enemy out of hatred or to simply survive the encounter.

And that's it!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Chronica Feudalis Fantasy Hack: Scaling Beyond The Natural

So far we've statted up ogre chieftans and orcs and they're nasty stuff. But they sit near the top of the scale and do not leave much room for things such as well, dragons.

We tried a few different approaches at scaling beyond D20 which is as good as it gets in Chronica Feudalis. D20 perfectly fits the natural world but like I said we're modeling fire breathing creatures here.

We tried rolling an extra die with multiple ways of influencing the skills/tools/traits but it didn't feel right so we ditched it for a couple of reasons. First it always felt like we didn't have enough dice. Second and most important, it hurt the clean elegance of the core system. Keeping track of the different types of dice caused undue confusion. What was a fast clean resolution system became cluttered. The next idea was to add flat bonus to anything that was higher in scale than D20. This is what we went with.

The next step was to determine how large the bonuses should be. Bonus equal to the highest die face: +4, +6, +8, +10, +12, +20? Or the means for each die: +2, +3, +4, +5, +6, +10? After some play testing we decided to go with +1 through +5. This decision was reached because of the way the system works. A very powerful ability equates to a single die which translates into at best a single success. This means that increasingly higher bonuses give diminishing returns. Succeed by 1 or by 20 it's a single success. Something to keep in mind is that depending on the style of game any of these bonus patterns could be used and the wheels won't fly off the CF cart.

Okay, now we had the bonus pattern that felt right but we didn't want to just say D20+1. Not that it wouldn't work. It was just a matter of feel and congruity with the rest of the game. Instead went with D21, D22, and so on:
  • D21 = D20+1
  • D22 = D20+2
  • D23 = D20+3
  • D24 = D20+4
  • D25 = D20+5
This approach helps keep the "rule space" clean and folks from wondering why they can't get D4+1 in Riding.

For play test we didn't go with a pure agent nor a pure antagonist when writing up the dragon. Instead we went with a hybrid to get the right amount of knobs to tweak for the design phase. Here's what we came up with:

  • Vigor: 4
  • Ardor: 3
  • Chase D20
  • Combat D12
  • Parley D12
  • Subterfuge D12
  • Ultra-Vision D21
  • Scales (Armor) D21
  • Claws D12
  • Breath D23
  • Maw D20
  • Ancient
  • Wily
  • Winged

More than once the small +1 to +3 bonus seriously gave the dragon great advantage. The bonuses were most effective when setting conditions. I knew that I could spend an action setting up a maneuver condition because of his scale.

Ticking up the D20 a couple of points after rolling really tests the bravest would-be dragon killer's resolve.

Spirit of the Force Part 4: Force Stunts

One of the easiest ways to model the force is by coupling an aspect (Force Sensitive) with a series of stunts.

Force Stunts
  • One With The Force: Requires Force Sensitive aspect.  For a FATE point, can substitute The Force for most any other skill as Theory In Practice from Spirit of the Century.  The character should have an aspect related to the task.
  • The Tree, The Rock: Requires Force Sensitive aspect.  Use The Force as ranged Might.
  • Force Strike: Requires The Tree, The Rock.  Use The Force as Guns but of course requires no tools.
  • Jedi Mindtrick: Requires One With The Force.  Use as per Hypnotic Speech from Spirit of the Century.
  • Transfer Force: Requires The Tree, The Rock.  Use as per Medic from Spirit of the Century.  Also allows the use of The Force skill as Science on medicine rolls.
  • Negate Energy: Requires One With The Force.  For a FATE point a Force user may attempt to absorb an energy attack, i.e. Blasters with The Force skill.
  • An Elegant weapon (for a more civilized age): Requires a customized lightsaber aspect.  Use as Weapon of Destiny from Spirit of the Century.
Next up: The Darkside

Spirit of the Force Part 3: Aspects

Aspects in FATE not only are used  in the definition of characters but they also help define a game's vocabulary.  Of course Star Wars already has so much to draw from...

Core Aspect:
  • Force Sensitive
Specialty Aspects:
  • Force Surge: Available only if a trained Force user.
Lightsaber Aspects:
  • I Shii-Cho
  • II Makashi
  • III Soresu: Defensive.  Best for deflecting blaster fire
  • IV Ataru: Strong and powerful.  Best against single opponents
  • V - a Shien: Best for redirecting blaster fire
  • V - b Djem So: Focus on domination, strength, power.
Required Aspects If a Jedi:
  • Padawan: Maximum Force skill level: Average
  • Jedi Knight: Maximum Force skill level: Good
  • Jedi Master: Maximum Force skill level: Superb
Everything else related to aspects is full wide open and is handled exactly as in Spirit of the Century.

Up next: Force Stunts

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My print copy of Swords & Wizardry White Box has arrived!

Wow.  I am far more impressed than I thought I'd be.  First of all, before I ever got my hands on the actual book I was impressed by how Lulu packaged it up.  The book arrived in mint condition.  
I've never seen such care put into securing a book inside of a shipping box before.  The book was packed inside of a foam "slipcase" shrink wrapped to a sheet of cardboard cut to the size of the box's inside area.  There was no way it was going to rattle around inside getting the corners all beat up as happens far too often.  This heartens me as someone who has a PDF up on Lulu and plans on eventually offering a print product through them.

Now, for White Box itself.  The quality jumped right out at me.  The cover is very glossy which really helps project the cover art.  Visually it is very impressive inside and out.  The printed page is very clear with high contrast.  How about the content?

I skimmed through the White Box PDF but that's about it.  Nothing yelled, "Run me!  Run me!"  But now, as soon as I'm done writing this I'm going to run it and may even switch my current S&W Core game over to White Box.

Spirit of the Force Part 2: Skills

The skill list isn't terribly different from the one presented in Spirit of the Century though there are a few tweaks.

  • Academics
  • Alertness
  • Art
  • Athletics
  • Blasters
  • Burglary
  • Close Combat
  • Contacting
  • Deceit
  • Empathy
  • Endurance
  • Gambling
  • Intimidation
  • Investigation
  • Leadership
  • Medicine: This new skill includes the medical trapping that used to be in Science.  The Lab Work and Science! trappings can also be used, but only for medical, biological and cybernetic purposes.
  • Might
  • Mysteries: The Arcane Lore trapping can be used by anyone.
  • Pilot
  • Rapport
  • Resolve
  • Resources
  • Science: This skill no longer includes medicine, so the Medical Attention trapping is removed and purely medical knowledge is now part of the skill Medicine.  However, it can still be used for academic/non-medical biological and cybernetic knowledge, so there is still some overlap.
  • Sleight of Hand
  • Stealth
  • Survival
There is one skill that stands out a bit:
  • The Force: Requires the Core Aspect: Force Sensitive.  Specifically the skill can be used for: Sixth Sense, Telekinesis (simple task), Fortune Telling, and Telepathy.
Next up: Aspects

Friday, May 22, 2009

Spirit of the Force Part 1: Health & Composure

This is the conversion that got me to thinking about starting a blog.  I've been sitting on it for about a year so it's about time...

Right after I finished reading Spirit of the Century I immediately realized that it would make for running an outstanding Star Wars game for a number of reasons including the free-wheeling ability to narrate both direct character interactions as well as vehicle chases that are so much part of the setting.  So, I jumped on RPG.net and saw that others were thinking the same thing. 
This is the start of what I cobbled together from conversations there and independent work done tinkering at the gaming table.

The first thing that needed tweaked to fit the SW universe was Health & Composure.  Even though 30s pulp movies were big influences for the movie series I didn't feel as though the default damage track system quite fit.  Here's what we came up with:

Physical Stress
  • 5 boxes
  • Treat as hit points
Composure Stress
  • 5 boxes
  • Treat as hit points
  • Each box may be tagged (burned) for +3.  This is considered a Dark Side action.  More on this later.
Buy off stress with Consequences:
  • Minor -2 stress
  • Medium -4 stress
  • Severe -6 stress

Next up:  Skills

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Chronica Feudalis Fantasy Hack

We started up a side fantasy game using the FATE inspired engine found in Chronica Feudalis.

One of our test characters, Jip the gnome teams up with a human named Siggurd on a mission to hunt down an ogre chieftain who has assembled a war host that is about to unleash its wrath on the local human settlements.

Ogre Chieftain
Vigor: 4
Ardor: 3
  • Brawl D20
  • Fitness D20
  • Strike D10
  • Command D8
  • Sense D6
  • Everything else D4
  • Club D10
  • Hide armor D6
  • Massively strong D8
  • Proven by challenge D8
  • Lumbering D8
We decided that he should have an entourage (Agents in CF parlance) of orcs. We decided to make the appearance of orcs something that is frightening in the setting and not at all common so they always appear as either agents or antagonists.

Orc Agent
Vigor: 2
  • Chase D6
  • Combat D6
  • Parley D4
  • Subterfuge D8
  • Orc scimitar D6
  • Orc bow D8
  • Quiver D6
  • Orc armor D8
  • Club D6
  • Hobnailed boots D6
  • Night vision D6
To facilitate writing up an orc protagonist we put together an orc racial package that is used in place of a mentor selection.

Orc racial package
  • Strike
  • Fitness
  • Brawl
  • Night vision d6
  • Hobnailed boots d6
Simple opponents such as goblins and kobolds are easily represented as having D4 in all skills/abilities.

So far the game has gone very well and we plan on expanding the fantasy hack. I've got some ideas on how to scale past D20 but they need more testing before posting.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Swords & Wizardry Player Handbook

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I was working on a single column layout of Swords & Wizardry for printing booklets.

I printed up and assembled a player handbook today just to see what it would look like:

I used the free OS X app CocoaBooklet to do the imposition for me.  Printing was a bit tricky since I don't have a duplex printer at home but once I got that figured out the process was pretty easy.


I got the urge to tweak the prototype booklet a bit more and trimmed the top and bottom with a paper cutter. The edges didn't come out as clean as I had hoped so I'm going to try printing a faint trim line so that they can trimming can be done before folding.

Here are the pics:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Just ordered S&W White Box in print

I just ordered the White Box edition of Swords & Wizardry in print.  Even though I love and am currently playing core, the PDF is working out just fine.  I snagged WB for its stow-and-go pickup-game-ability.

FYI: The coupon code MAYCONTEST10 yields 10% off.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Swords & Wizardry: Working on a single column layout

One of the projects that I'm working on is taking the content of the S&W Word Doc and putting it into a single column layout to make it easier to use when printed as a booklet.

I'm not modifying any of the rules in-place. Instead, the house rules are placed beside them. This way the players can see the how, where, and why of the changes. And if they so choose they can take the document and play the original game.

In order to proceed much farther I've got to decide where to break the document up for the physical "books" because it's getting a bit thick for a single booklet. I'm thinking booklet 1 will be everything necessary for character creation and playing the game sans spells. Booklet 2 will be the spell listings for both clerics and magic-users. Booklet 3 will be the rest of everything else for use primarily by the GM.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Old School. New Premise. A Promise

Old School
Recently, I kicked off my first Swords & Wizardry campaign. I wanted dwarves and elves and much of the things that many may consider cliched and trite. But at the same time I didn't want to completely abandon my modern gaming sensibilities.

New Premise

So, I needed a premise. I wanted an explanation in place for why the world is littered with ruins filled with treasure awaiting the intrepid adventurer. At the same time I didn't want to build a large overarching meta-plot that often becomes an unproductive exercise. Too often I don't actually run the game at hand because I grow weary from the novel-esque preparation. It's back to old school so none of that.

Harkening back to my halcyon days of gaming there was no need for any stinking premise. Anything and everything I could get my hands on became a potential ingredient for the upcoming adventure. Implicitly the world was what it was because I as GM said it was. Or because it was that way in the current module being run. I can't go all the way back to the "style of no style" no matter how much fun it was at the time.

From the perspective of deep campaign prep it took discipline to come up with a mere basis on which reasoning proceeds but I came up with...

A promise.

Kingdoms of man sprawl across the world. These kingdoms not only define high culture but also great riches. They drive back the dark things that in time become the subject of legend and scary bedtime stories.

Then the world is turning upside down.

The civilizations of man begin to crumble. The things of legend again go bump in the night.

Standing together at the brink, the peoples of the elves and the dwarves each make a promise to the men of the high age whose flame is quickly flickering out.

Then it is dark.

Elves become the machiavellian political masters of the orc tribes in attempt to keep the population of "low" man where he is so that the promise can be fulfilled. The elves believe that the original men will return to once again take their place and that the men who now huddle in round houses and hill forts must be kept where they are.

The dwarves believe that great men will rise above their peers to retake the original high place. The promise compels the dwarves to do what they must to assist the communities of man to make this happen.

Now I have the germ of a game world ready for adventuring.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Chronica Feudalis: Witness

I found a really cool game called Chronica Feudalis by Jeremy Keller. The premise of the game is that it was written in the 12th century and just recently has been translated. This sets an implicit evocative tone of the medieval period that really works. Last night my wife and I gave it a whirl...

Walter Atwell a town guard was sent to a local village to escort the witness to a crime, a little boy to the magistrate for an upcoming trial. A local outlaw knight doesn't want that happening so he hit the village with his goons and attempted to take the witness hostage if not outright kill him.

Awoken from his slumber before the crow of the cock, Walter peers out the window and sees men attempting to set fire to thatched roofs. It's a dreary morning with the swirl of fog and a slight drizzle.

Walter slowly opens his window and grabs his long bow. He takes aim at the nearest torch bearer and looses an arrow killing the man instantly. He lays back into the room waiting to see if his position has been discovered. Not yet anyways.

He lines up another shot and another bandit falls from a mortal strike. But this time the bandit lieutenant discovers what is going on and orders his men to the house where Walter is now hiding.

Before he can be pinned down Walter takes action and uses his bow and athleticism to keep his distance from the goon squad.

Little by little it seemed as if the noose was closing on Walter as the lieutenant starts to gain control and musters his men into cohesive action. Mechanically the lieutenant places a condition of "surrounded" on Walter.

Before the bandits could inflict much harm, Walter breaks out of the encirclement and again goes back to work picking off bandits one at a time. Each side maneuvers trying to gain the tactical upper hand and it is the lieutenant who screws up first. He is distracted talking to some of his men when Walter finds him directly in his line of sight. Whoosh! The arrow strikes home and drops the lieutenant into the muddy street with a vicious wound.

Without taking time to relish the shot Walter dashes for cover. From this new vantage, up the street he sees the epicenter of the ruckus. A knight mounted on a restless horse waiting outside of a house. The house of the witness!

Here's where something that I appreciated as GM came up. I set the difficulty of the shot and it was simply too high for Walter to roll. Implicitly out of range! Very cool.

Evaluating the new situation Walter doubles back and picks up a spear and shield from a downed bandit. He decides to get in close to take out the knight since the shield made it more likely that he could survive the encounter. It wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility that the mounted knight could maneuver in and place the condition of "too close to shoot". If this happened then Walter would likely take a blow that could cripple him for life.

So, again, sheer athleticism allows Walter to close the distance. He tagged "the din of the ruckus" to help set a rush ambush and launched his attack. Gerald De Bois never heard nor saw the guard before the first strike was sprung.

The spear struck home but the knight's armor absorbed the blow. Before the knight could act Walter swung his spear flat against the horse's rump forcing a condition of "going out of control" on the horse and rider.

Gerald is a decent rider and with relative ease brings the horse back under reign but the next blow of the spear knocks him to the ground where he will remain for much of the remainder of combat.

Blow after blow rains down on the knight but his toughness and armor absorbed most of what Walter can dish out.

Running low on Vigor Gerald stands up and swings his sword at Walter, tagging his aspect "Merciless Bastard (literally)" which gave him quite an intimidating pool resulting in two successes. Amazingly Walter's shield stays intact and turns the blow.

Walter lowers his shield and simply charges the knight who slips in the mud and again finds himself on his back. This time he would not regain his feet. A flurry of blows strike the knight with the last of which takes his life. But not before Gerald was able to bellow his last order, a call to rally on him. In just a flash the rest of his retinue begin to close in on Walter's position.

I could have played Gerald smarter if I gamed the system a bit more. I would have used Ride with his horse as a tool and tagged his aspect "Wounded little boy" to get away.

Walter realizes that there's no where to go except inside the house. He discovers that the dwelling is empty and that the back door is hanging wide open. He runs to the open door and sees a large man running off with his witness slung over his shoulder.

The chase is afoot down a windy shambling road and immediately the goon twists his knee (rolls 1s). Street after street no one gains the upper hand. Finally the chase breaks out of the village into a field before hitting the woods. Now the difficulty rises which makes it almost assured that Walter will catch the guard and recover his witness. But he has to make it so.

Down into a gully they go and the ruffian stumbles but catches his balance as he scrambles up over the crest of a hill. Down over the other side is a stream with a steep bank on the opposite side. Walter figures that here is where he'll catch his quarry and he was right.

Quarry and pursuer splash across the stream. The large man collapses on the bank unable to move let alone catch his breath. In agony he looses the little boy. Walter stands in the cold water wondering who else wants the boy and how he will transport him to the magistrate.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Swords & Wizardry: Individual Initiative By Weapon Type

I'm going to take a cue from John Harper's Agon and use weapon type to help determine individual initiative timing in an attack round.

A rough guideline for weapon categories is: Bow > Spear > Sword > Dagger > Fist

Initiative is determined for each group in a conflict by rolling 1D6. Starting with the highest group initiative, all individuals within a group with the longest weapon type make their attack. Continue with the next lower group initiative and so on. Once all attacks are made with the longest weapon type start again with the group who rolled the highest but this time with the next shorter weapon type. Continue till everyone who can make can attack has.

This gives some mechanical benefit for having a spear, for example, without altering to-hit modifiers for weapon length, etc.


After some feedback over at the Swords & Wizardry forum:

When two groups are considered to be corps-a-corps (body to body) flip the order: Fist > Dagger > Sword > Spear > Bow

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Multi-Page Swords & Wizardry Character Sheet Sans Parchment

I like options and I know that other people do as well so I whipped up a simpler [than this] version of the multi-page character sheet. It keeps all of the graphic elements except the parchment background. A print test run showed that it used a lot less ink and was much faster.

Swords & Wizardry Simpler Multi-Page Character Sheet

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

Swords & Wizardry: I have a good feeling about this.

Earlier, I mentioned that I've had a fantasy game in my head for a long time and that for the last three years I've been actively looking for a system to express it.

I kept an eye on the 'net and grabbed anything that looked like it might do the trick. For some reason I couldn't find what I needed to scratch the itch. It seemed as if the vehicle to help evoke the game that only I knew about would not be found. I began to think that the game was was less a figment of my imagination and more an unplayable figment of nostalgia that at best could be propped up by mementos. The notion seemed more and more real because it was evident that most of the games I tried were fantastic in their own right and were not the precise problem. Through the evaluation process I found some gems that became favorites.

What I didn't realize was that I lost the frame of mind and perspective that helped mold that fantasy game whose origins lie at the nexus of my maturing imagination and my introduction to gaming. During those primordial days of structured story telling I had the tools and perspective but not the maturity to actually run the game that I had in my noggin. Looking back, that era was really about the wonder of possibilities punctuated by more than one Dragon Magazine cover that made me pause and say, "There! That's my game!" I never did manage to pull it off but boy did I have a lot of fun trying.

At some point it became obvious that I should just walk over to the book shelf, pick up AD&D 2nd Ed. and go to town. So I did. I hadn't seriously looked at the books in a decade but in the end I couldn't bring myself to use them. Still they remained at least in spirit the model.

When I saw the OSRIC announcement I thought, "Oh, cool" as memories stirred of my grandfather taking me to the only local hobby shop to look at the modules that lined the shelf. But that's about where it ended. OSRIC contained most of the bits that made me put away my AD&D books. So I filed the PDF away in my gaming folder where I soon lumped other games such as Basic Fantasy and Labyrinth Lord.

So, the process continued until another retro-clone caught my eye. Firstly the cover evoked the right feeling and drew me in. Secondly the rules were well served by the cover as they were of a similar style. I was amazed by what I saw. It was a simple rule set full of implicit flavor that felt wide open taking me back to the feeling of wonder of possibility. I didn't even pause to think that it could be too good to be true. I was too busy reading the book and looking for any and all Swords & Wizardry material that I could get my mitts on. I loved what I was seeing; a game like the one I started this hobby with but simpler!

Looking through the lens of S&W's simplicity I realized that I was framing my gaming approach in a way that fundamentally diminished the possibility of attaining my goal i.e. too much preparation that predetermined large swaths of the setting and thus the direction of the game. I found new appreciation for the other retro-clones as well. All of them bring something to the table beyond a common approach - rules options and tweaks that can easily be plugged into a highly playable lightweight framework.

In the spirit of the retro-clones I put together a light game world premise and set out to see what we could see. The kickoff session was incredibly fun.

I have a good feeling about this.