Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Origin of Proficiencies

I've long belabored the importance of 'access' in game balance and since I did so with the last post, I thought it'd be a good opportunity to share where the idea came from. Throughout Third Edition I slowly built a magic system that achieved my goals. Basically, I wanted to let a wider range of magic using characters exist and be fully balanced without requiring an ever ballooning list of classes, spell lists, and spells.

This system still has its issue, but with about 100 spells it it lets any class become a casting class in any multi-class combination AND decide to become a caster at any point in their career. An 8th level fighter picking up a level of mage made a choice--he didn't sacrifice a bunch of power to become over powered later. Over time, I started trying to distill why this worked down into simpler tradeoffs and that evolved into the current proficiency system.

Rather than re-write everything up, I figured I'd just link to the digital graveyard where the magic system resides. The link goes to the flavor text portion of the tab, the meat of the content is accessible from the sidebar below MAGIC in the sub-tabs of 'Forms,' 'Mage Class,' and 'Magic Mechanics.'

Friday, March 23, 2012

Some parting notes (vol. 3)

This is another topic that I touched on back when I was talking about Reed's Law, but I didn't quite drive it home as well as I wanted to. It is the idea that issues of game balance are inextricably linked to access to powers and less by how powerful the powers actually are. If you look at what I did with Runeward's proficiency system, you'll see how this plays out. Hopefully after this parting note you'll understand why it is so important.

Imagine a scenario of a group playing 3.5e D&D when swift actions were part of the game. The group is all 5th level, about to hit 6th, and is made up of a Bard, Barbarian, Fighter, Monk, and Wizard. It is an urban campaign, so almost all of the opponents are classed-NPCs. The GM really enjoys building effective NPCs to challenge the party with. The GM wants to add a new power to the game called Heroic Concentration. It is a feat that lets you spend a swift action to gain +10 attack and defense (AC and all saves) for one round unlimited times per day. He is trying to think about what requirements this feat should have.

Heroic Concentration is obviously insanely powerful. Think about the impact to the game under the following three scenarios:
  1. Heroic Concentration has no requirements. Since everyone is about to hit 6th level, everyone will take it. Likely, every NPC will have it as well, so the feat is really a wash; we just increased all numbers by 10. People are probably going to be mostly annoyed. They wanted to spend their 6th level feat on something neat and now they have to spend it on this dumb power just to keep up with everyone else. If anyone relied on their swift action, they actually lost a little power because they'll always have to spend their swift on Heroic Concentration. The introduction of Heroic Concentration doesn't really imbalance anything, it is mostly annoying.
  2. Heroic Concentration requires 1 level of monk. Now everyone will feel like they need to take monk as their 6th level and spend their feat on Heroic Concentration to keep up. Except the monk, of course. He is happy as can be. The fighter probably doesn't have a big problem with this, but barbarian and bard can't take monk without losing class powers. Wizard also has a tough choice because the potency of the wizard class relies on getting deep into the levels. Having to take a level in monk just delays access to all the spells he was looking forward to. This is a real problem for the game. Sure, everyone can take Heroic Concentration, but the access costs are not equal for all players and since it is so powerful everyone feels like they must take it, this imbalance is a problem.
  3. Heroic Concentration requires 5 levels of monk. The game is broken. Even if everyone starts heading towards Heroic Concentration right now, they have to spend the next 5 levels drastically inferior to the monk and all NPCs they encounter. For the bard and barbarian, they'll spend those 5 levels also without their existing powers. For the wizard, his powers will never scale to keep up. This game is broken and the GM likely just ended his campaign by introducing Heroic Concentration with these requirements.
People might be able to disagree here or there, but the gist of my predictions for each of the three scenarios is probably accurate. Heroic Concentration was identical in all three scenarios, but the impact it had on game balance was entirely correlated to how difficult it was to access. 

Think about that for a second. I mean really think about it. How often have we seen arguments over tweaking some rule because it was too powerful or too weak or too whatever? Absolutely, some things can be too powerful/weak and tweaking them can fix the problem. But more important than any of that is access. We can select different modes of access and that will have a huge impact on our ability to add rules to the game. Since adding rules is pretty important, we should think carefully about what mode of access we select. Now also think about what modes of access 3e and 4e took. Fourth edition took a pretty narrow mode of access with every class being linear and limited multiclassing. Third edition was much broader with more reliance on feats and more flexible multiclassing (albeit still linear within the class). Think which system was more enjoyable to design new stuff for--most people would say 3e and that was because it had a more accessible mode of access.

Runeward sought to address all these issues and smooth out the power curve. Through proficiencies, every class is progressing towards the high level powers of every other class, albeit at a slower pace. If new powers are introduced, they are substantially more accessible to all characters. As a result, the risk of imbalancing the game by introducing a poorly designed power diminishes. That is great design for a living RPG that people are going to fiddle with and it is something that D&D has been moving away from.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Some parting notes (vol. 2)

Way back when I was just thinking about the general approach I wanted to take in designing Runeward, I wrote an article about the Economies of D&D. I basically argued that there were three economies:
  1. The way power is introduced into the game. This is sort of what game designers do in the background as they balance classes, powers, and so on.
  2. The way power is expressed in the game. This is what we generally refer to as the action economy or how a player takes the power that was introduced in the first economy and uses it to inform actions during play.
  3. The way power is experienced in the game. This was the new novel idea in the article; the idea that in addition to all the stuff we normally worry about, we should also worry about the actual experience of interacting with the rules. I argued that this third economy seemed to have been forgotten about as of late in D&D and wanted to fix that.
The article was not received well on message boards. I will always remember the gist, albeit not the actual words, of the first response. It was something akin to, "I don't know what you are talking about, but I know I don't like it, and I don't think we need to talk about it."

I, however, think my article had an important insight and I strove to honor it in Runeward. In essence, there are a handful of actions that characters will take from time to time that are really dramatic and I want them to feel dramatic. To some extent I think the approach to miss chances that I discussed in Some parting notes (vol. 1) highlights this. The best representation, though, is probably the role of shields in the game.

Shield Sacrifice (page 14)
If a character takes a big hit they can risk destroying their shield to increase their Damage Threshold against that one hit. The decision to risk the shield is made after all damage is announced, so the player gets to set the drama. Once they risk it, they roll 2d6 for a heavy shield and 1d6 for a light shield. Damage is reduced by the result of the die roll. This is a pretty huge benefit and can turn a Hard Wound into a Soft Wound or a Mortal Wound into a Hard Wound, potentially saving the character's life.

The drama enters based on the result of the die roll. If any die comes up a 3, 2, or 1 the shield breaks. Heavy shields become light shields and light shields are destroyed. So a heavy shield with a result of 6 and 3 would temporarily increase your Damage Threshold by 9 (which is huge) but still destroy the shield (which is dramatic). The system is tweaked so that masterwork shields are only destroyed on a roll of 1 or 2 and magical shields on a roll of 1. There's also a shield magical property that lets you roll d8, meaning you'll increase the Damage Threshold even more and break even less.

I think this epitomizes that third economy. There are a lot of ways that you could allow shields to increase the damage threshold and be about as powerful. You could just make them a static +5 to Damage Threshold and that would likely be more powerful. This way, the player routinely feels vulnerable to big hits but when they arise has the potential to take a dramatic action which introduces tension throughout the resolution of the act. That is vastly superior, with regards to the third economy, than a static +5 but it might be equal or even inferior with regards to the first economy.

I think these are the types of rules that lead to really memorable and fun game experiences. I also think that we are more likely to develop these types of rules if there is language out there to help people communicate about these ideas. I think the third economy is an important and underrepresented economy in RPG design. I think Runeward is better because I actively designed it with the third economy in mind.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Some parting notes (vol. 1)

I've gotten some neat feedback on the alpha draft and realized that there were some things that I never got around to including in the PDF. I figured I'd share them real quick for the sake of completeness.

Throughout Runeward I had a couple of design ethos. One of those ethos was that consistency of mechanics leads to quicker familiarity and mastery of the system. At the same time, though, sometimes it is a good idea to make things feel special. Breaking the mold or having a completely unique mechanic for something that is supposed to be rare helps emphasize that and set it apart. One such mechanic was Runeward's miss chance.

I preferred 3e's miss chance mechanic over 4e's. The flat percentage on top of AC was just a neat little addition that set it apart. It really made you feel like you were firing through fog or that the monster was phasing in and out of existence. It was also fun (probably properly read as frustrating) for people to realize they rolled high enough to hit but still end up missing because of the miss chance. That is a good mechanic, the character was successful (which feels good) but that success was mitigated by some thing in-game (which feels horrible). A flat increase to what you need to roll on a d20 just can't compare.

Percentile miss chances also have a problems. The linearity with which they decrease your likelihood to hit was perhaps too rapid. It also only ever allows for 10 steps of missing (e.g. 10%, 20%, etc) with a lot of those chunks being either too low to matter or so high they are prohibitive. The "fun" miss chances are few and far between. Finally, a miss chance connotes the idea that you don't know what is going to happen. When it is then a straight percentage it doesn't really feel like a 'chance,' it feels like odds.

Miss chance in Runeward sought to address those issues.

You can acquire a miss chance from a range of scenarios (cover, concealment, or creature ability) and they all stack together. So if I am firing through fog (hypothetical 2 miss chance) and through brambles (hypothetical 3 miss chance) at some creature with a stance that increases all miss chances by 1, that would quick add up to 6 miss chances. So far, fairly simple.

The second step was to calculate your miss chance die. For the most part this was a function of the range at which you were interacting. At close or melee range you would default to a d10, at short range a d8, and at long range a d6. For example, a longbow being fired through fog at long range would roll a d6 but if the target was changed to short range (adjacent zone) it would increase to d8 and if you fired on someone in the same zone it would be d10. There is also a Blind Fighting feat that increases your miss chance die one step for all weapons.

The final step is to roll your miss chance die for every miss chance you have. To continue the example, our hypothetical longbow firing through fog and brambles at a shifty creature (6 miss chances) would roll 6d8 if the target was in an adjacent zone. If any of the dice come up a 1, the shot misses. In this way, a larger die is a boon because it is less likely to come up a 1.

Let's see some math!

Miss chance die type


# miss chances
Probability to hit

Our longbow on 6d8 has a 45% to still hit (and then a 55% chance to miss). If he instead tactically shifted to be in the same zone as the target, his die would jump to d10 and he would hit 53% of the time. Finally, if he had Blind Fighting and shifted into the same zone, he would go up to 59%.

The reason I like this model is four-fold.
  1. It puts more power into the hands of the player and makes miss chance more tactical in nature based on placement.
  2. It allows for more sources to add together into a simple miss chance model. Unlike with a flat percentage where you only have 10 steps possible (and most of those aren't in a dramatic zone), almost all of the results with this model have a meaningful measure of tension.
  3. The actual odds are semi-hidden from the player. In fact, the odds feel much worse than they actually are. Telling someone to roll 6d10 and they fail if *any* dice comes up a 1 feels like bleak odds yet you'll probably succeed. That is going to make players feel great.
  4. It adds a lot of tension. You've already figured out you hit and now you are rolling miss chance. If the likelihood of missing is low (e.g. one or two dice) then it is quickly resolved and we don't spend much time. If the likelihood of missing is high (e.g. 6+ dice) then it organically gets drawn out with each successive roll raising the tension until you either succeed or dramatically fail.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Maybe I lied...

I didn't intend to lie when I wrote "I guess we're back," but it turned out to be not the truth. Perhaps same difference. The truth is that I was getting pretty close to wrapping up on an alpha draft that I still think is pretty darn strong. Even if it isn't revolutionary, it has some neat ideas and I'm proud of what I got done. Then I experienced some personal loss and it really took the wind out of my sails with regards to designing anything. I thought game design might be cathartic and so posted the "I guess we're back" to try and pressure myself into working on stuff by publicly promising I would. It didn't work. It wasn't cathartic. I'm okay with that now.

Then 5e was announced. If personal loss took the wind out of my sails, I gotta imagine the announcement of 5e puts any effort to crowd source a totally new game in the doldrums. It's hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm of a new edition and I find that even my cynical self has his interest piqued by the mystery of what is to come.

With that, I figured I'd toss online what I got down on paper. There is a lot more in my head and I'm happy to talk about it, so please feel free to question. It is reasonably complete, probably about 85% of an alpha draft with notes on the remaining 15%. The last few pages of the document slide in a fairly amusing progression, from basically finished with some edits --> rough draft --> just notes --> conceptual goals. Regardless, I hope someone gets some use or inspiration out of it. Maybe in a few months I'll find out I dislike 5e and decide to pick it up, dust it off, and see if I can't crowd source some enthusiasm.

Get your Runeward alpha now!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The broadest strokes

My plan is to roll stuff out piecemeal so I can explain it as I go along. My theory is that the bulk of explanatory text and examples are really only useful the first time you read something, so I'd rather not bulk up the document and spend a ton of time formatting that stuff. This way the examples can be more thorough since there are no space constraints. To that end, most of what appears below is just a more complete rendition of what appears in the link. The thought is that you'll be better able to triangulate the intention with more data.

What we're doing here is setting up the overarching framework of how power is introduced to the game. At first level you get a bit extra, but in general the framework should be similar: you have a level, a race, and a class. 

Character Level
Your level provides ability points to increase abilities, feats every even level, and a "level bonus" (equal to 1/2 total level) that is added to a handful of level dependent stuff. The level dependent stuff is a major way in how characters improve with respect to other characters and monsters. Most stuff in the game really doesn't scale that much (i.e. if you're +4 to attack and first level, you might be +6 or something at level ten). So while your chance of hitting doesn't change that much, what happens when you hit does change. You'll do more damage (level dependent), use stronger attacks (because you have more powers), and can use your most potent stuff more often (more action points). The result of this approach is that creatures of differing levels can more easily interact. A low level guy fighting a high level guy will actually hit fairly regularly, it is just that the high level guy will shrug it off. 

At first level, you gain more ability points (or you can roll) and a feat despite it being an odd level.

Your race is just a bundle of middling powerful powers. There are no ability bonuses or other powers important enough that race-class combinations are practically determined for you. This isn't to say that certain races won't be better at certain classes, but never so much better that the guy who wants to play class X feels they have to play race Y. 

To be honest, I'm sort of ambivalent about races in general. I think races are a really useful vehicle to get powers to a character and make them more interesting. The problem is that racial powers have lately been so tied up with combat that picking your race has become the first step in the power-creep arms race. I think races would add the most to the game if, instead of pushing a character further down their narrow focus, they broadened the character out. That is, if you had fighters that could cast Light instead of fighters that could Second Wind as a minor action. That isn't to say the powers can't be useful in combat, I just don't like how transparent race-class combinations have become and then having to deal with the narrative awkwardness of a player not wanting to portray any of the cultural/RP aspects of the race they picked.

Your race also adds a set of racial talents to the pool of talents you can choose from. The idea of "pools" that you can choose from crops up a lot but it isn't a new idea. It could be rephrased as, "there are a bunch of talents with Requirement: Dwarf. If you are a dwarf, you meet the requirement." 

At first level, you gain a talent. You can spend it on a racial talent or a regular talent.

Your class provides the bulk of  your power through masteries. Masteries provide actions called strikes (typically standard actions; they're your attack actions) and maneuvers (typically move actions; they're your literal moves and buffs). Both of these will get a lot more detail in the days to come and they'll crop up constantly. You can also gain strikes and maneuvers from other things like magic items, the terrain, your allies, and so on.

Your class also provides proficiency bonuses. Most of the neat stuff in the game (strikes, maneuvers, feats, talents, and more) all have proficiency requirements. Proficiencies serve as the backbone of the system that allows multiclassing to easily occur. If we think about 3e, the belief was that a level-is-a-level-is-a-level. But in truth a Fighter 8 jumping into Sorcerer 1 probably lost power compared to Fighter 9. In this system, the Fighter 8 would have an Arcane proficiency of +4 (all of it from level bonus) so when he jumped into Mage 1 he'd have Arcane proficiency of +5 (+4 level bonus and +1 from Mage). He can skip the weakest mage powers and jump into something more useful to his level. He can't access the stuff that a pure mage could access, but he isn't relegated to stuff too weak to justify the switch.

You can also see that certain multiclassing wouldn't hurt him at all. If our Fighter 8 jumped into Knight 1, his Martial proficiency would continue to increase so that when he went back to Fighter he wouldn't have lost much at all. If we continue the example, a Fighter 8/Knight 8 would have the same Martial proficiency as a Fighter 16 and so could take the same Martial fighter powers as a pure fighter. He would have a much lower Nimble score, though, and so could not meet the requirements for those fighter powers. In this way, you can blend your proficiencies to really create a profile of the character you want to play, taking different elements from different classes to build whatever you want.

Classes gain a talent every even level. This is a minor tax to discourage multiclassing in that if you take a single level of a bunch of classes, you'll miss out on some talents. 

At first level, you pick three or more affinities which are the equivalent of skills in other games. We'll talk more on these in the days to come. You also get the classes starting feats, typically four. These are things like armor proficiency, additional affinities, spell casting stuff, and so on. You only get the starting feats of the class you take at first level, but, importantly, they are feats. So if your first level is Mage you won't have any armor proficiencies, but you can take them with regular feats later if you want to be the platemail clad mageknight. 

Power categories
Runeward is designed to be accommodating to adding new rules and new content. One of my complaints with D&D is that there are actually few vehicles to introduce new stuff into the game without disrupting it. If I decide that my world needs a robust system for literacy and languages, I don't have many options. I could make it a skill but now I've disrupted the skill-point economy. I could make it a feat but now I'm asking players to trade off combat effectiveness for literacy. I could create an entirely new system, but those often feel tacked on because they are so clearly tacked on. Instead, I tried to develop clear categories of power so that when stuff was added, it could compete in the appropriate sub-economy.
  • Talents. Talents are the weakest category of power. If you think about taking all of the 3e classes and making every class power a feat, talents are the class power feats that no one would take. They are supposed to be the stuff that makes a character interesting as opposed to more effective. If you decide that your campaign will give literacy some RP-game time, then it would be a talent.
  • Feats. Feats are the gatekeeper--you can wear armor, you can't; you are proficient with that weapon, you aren't--and are usually just recorded on the character sheet. You usually don't have to remember you have a feat during gameplay. Two important exceptions to this exist, but they'll get their own discussing in the days ahead.
  • Masteries. Masteries are the flashy actions that you actually take. You will need to remember that you have a mastery because you'll say, "I use X strike" or "I use Y maneuver." 
There are actually a few more categories that we'll cover in time but this serves as an efficient overview. 

Legends and Lore

The Legends and Lore articles started becoming a regular feature a month or so into my little project. There's definitely a logical progression to what they're doing, so I often read the article and reacted with glee that they were discussing the same things I just realized I needed to resolve. This made me feel good at first, like I must be on the right track. Now not so much.

Most annoying is the incredibly generous usage of the concept of "dials." What isn't a dial these days? The most recent article uses the idea of a thermometer to hone in on your preferred balance of concrete rules to just letting the DM adjudicate a rule on the fly. But this dial is utterly impossible to provide. If someone wants to turn the dial up on concrete rules, that means those rules had to have been created. They had to have been written, edited, and printed. If someone wants to turn the dial back, they can't get away from having to flip past those rules, they paid for those rules, they carried those rules to the table, and everyone knows they are there hanging over ever decision the DM adjudicates. Once the option to turn the dial up exists, you cannot truly turn it back.

Moreover, I think we have too generous an ascription of the idea of a dial. It is not like we can click the dial one notch and carve off 5-10 concrete rules, they're going to be lumped into maybe two or three settings for the sheer necessity of organization. A "dial" with two or three settings is probably best described as something other than a dial. We're implying a level of precision that we're incapable of delivering on.

Regardless, I actually think the underlying topic of today's L&L is one of the most important they've touched on so far. The basic trade off between what should we rely on the DM to resolve and what should we develop rules to cover. When I pondered through it I saw it more as a scale with every conceivable event that could arise having to be placed on one side or the other. Each side brings along its own burdens and you have to figure out your preferred balance of rule-ambiguity and rule-precision.

For me, I view the costs of rule-precision to be greater than the costs of rule-ambiguity. If you want a precise rule, you carry that rule with you through all parts of the game. Not only the stuff I talked about above (paying for writing, editing, printing, physically carrying, etc), but it also hangs over ever other rule. If I wanted to push a statue onto a monster in 2e I probably just made an attack roll with strength. It makes sense, I mean, ultimately the statue is just going to do a bunch of damage, so an attack is proximate enough. You could move really far in 2e so we didn't worry about getting over there and climbing up to a point where I had leverage. We just rolled and saw what happens. Then it was someone else's turn.

As the game got more concrete, the existence of rules suggested limitations. We should probably see if I had enough movement to get over there and climb (half speed) up the statue. Since I'm climbing, I should probably make a quick check with a bonus since it is near a wall (chimney). If I didn't have enough move, then I don't have enough actions. I should probably make some sort of a Strength check and maybe a Dex-based melee touch since if the statue hits it'll do the damage I want. In 4e maybe instead it'd be an attack vs. Reflex and we'd consult the table for the limited damage expression. The more concrete editions certainly provide a more tools to resolve the action, but there were now so many little chances to fail that it was no longer worth trying. Attacking normally was easier and, often, more powerful.

[It's a joke]

This isn't rose colored glasses, 2e is objectively my least favorite edition, but that isn't to say that it didn't do certain things better than later editions. In the case of balancing adjudication and rule-precision, 2e gave a handful of broad tools. Each tool had a pretty distinct role so it wasn't hard to figure out when it was the right tool for the job. The result was that the game always gave you a starting place for adjudication that was fair-ish and you just trusted the DM to tweak it a little bit for the unique exigency of whatever it was you were doing. To round back on the hypothetical of the scale, I see 2e as a handful of large, concrete rules on the rule-precision side and a big amorphous blob of whatever unique situations arise on the DM adjudication side. That's a good balance, in my opinion, and I think there's obviously potential to develop much better tools than 2e provided.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I guess we're back

Being "done" is sort of frightening. Fortunately, I'm not done. There is a point where the diminishing marginal return of number crunching and theorizing is so diminished that it really doesn't make much sense to continue. I probably hit that point about a month ago and just walked away to see if when I came back I felt any different. I didn't and the gripes I have with the game are probably best measured and rectified after getting feedback from some fresh eyes. I have some formatting and what not to wrap up, but I think a lot of the shortcomings of the document can be smoothed out by just throwing a rambling post up to explain in many words whatever it was I couldn't explain in few.

I hadn't looked at my list of elements in a while, so I decided to round back and see how I did.

  • Easy to add. Probably better than I originally imagined. This element was first for a rather important reason--that if you want to crowd source content, it is an absolute must--but it sort of became the focus of the game. I think it will be really, really easy for people to add and customize stuff.
  • Tools and guides. They aren't done, but I think they'll be easy enough to produce and very informative. I really think the learning curve is short and the mastery-curve is long. That's a good thing.
  • Quicker combats. The potential is definitely there but I really have no idea. I think this is where fresh-eyes and play testing will be important. The details can be easily tweaked to have quick combat, but it might not be there just yet.
  • Less grid-reliant. Absolutely. Zones make a grid largely irrelevant but miniatures are still useful for showing relationships. I think it is the best of all worlds; you get the fun of minis and physical objects but not the drag of counting squares.
  • Less to remember. Like quicker combats, it definitely *should* work out that way but I guess we'll have to see. Marking didn't jump out at me as a horrible mechanism at first either.
  • Less to memorize. I think this will be a success as well. The game is designed to put smaller decisions to the player more often instead of a few huge decisions. As a result, a lot of the information can be withheld until the moment of the decision, which just means you need to keep less in your head. I think that will be a win for experienced and new players.
  • Strong core system. The system is certainly "strong and clearly communicated" but I'm not as sure anymore what this means. If I meant "clearly defined and delineated math" then I guess no. If I meant a robust system that performs consistently across many dimensions, then I guess yes.
  • Character building. Absolutely. The idea I kept going back to is that I wanted to "build" a character instead of "pick" a character. I think that'll happen.
  • More room for adjudication. Yeap. The system trades a few useful tools for the bulk of rules that go with a lot of games. Those tools work really well with just a little adjudication. The trick, though, was to put some thought into the range of those tools to push the adjudication to be fair. I imagine this point will take some selling and will meet with initial resistance. I think I can sell it, though.
  • Favorable system assumptions. Not really. Instead the system is just flexible enough in the content that it really isn't an issue.
When I looked back at the list of elements I was surprised, in truth, at how well I did. It is probably still a pipe dream to think that enough content will ever be crowd sourced to make a full game, but I can always plug away and have fun. I concluded the first list by saying that if the game "achieves these goals, it will at least be worth giving a look." I think that, at a minimum, has been achieved and I'm excited to be ready to share stuff about it again.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Unexpected revelation

I'm actually getting fairly far into my design and so wanted to transition back into posting some discussions about abstract topics. We'll get to the more concrete stuff eventually....

Some incredibly brief background
  1. I enjoy most of 4e but I really miss 3e style multiclassing. I had a good idea on how I could overlay multiclassing onto 4e and keep most of it intact, but a few hiccups and general ambition pushed the redesign a bit farther.
  2. Eventually, it went far enough that it wouldn't overlay 4e very well and I realized a lot of new content (i.e. powers) would have to be produced. If that was the case, might as well slaughter a few sacred cows....
  3. The changes I made were pretty cosmetic in the grand scheme of things (it was still very much a D&D-esque system) and it was serving my basic design goals.
  4. Then the unexpected revelation hit. It bummed me out. It led me to a redesign. 
The unexpected revelation
One of my design goals was to have a really robust mathematical underpinning to the game so that the foundation would be stable enough to handle just about anything people wanted to introduce. Make it stable, and they can shake it as much as they want! It was great in principle, but it turned out boring in practice. The decisions and tradeoffs ended up feeling artificial. They were really well balanced, could be easily interchanged, and were infinitely versatile, but they were also basically all the same.

I eventually realized that this was the same issue I have with 4e, just expressed differently. In 4e, if you assign your 20 to dexterity you make sure to attack with dex and are +5 attack and +5 damage and increase your AC by 5. If you assign it to strength, you are +5 attack and +5 damage and wear Chainmail. You sort of end up the same with only cosmetic differences. Even worse, 4e probably did it better than me.

Now, I don't want to be too critical. To some extent, you need all characters to have around the same attack bonus and the same defense bonuses or else the dice don't cooperate and the game breaks down. But when you build a system on outrageously robust math (like 4e and like I was trying to do), it is really easy to see through the cosmetics and becomes bored.

The new path
On my redesign, I sort of just let the game go wherever looked like interesting ground. I think it is still very much in the spirit of D&D, but it is no longer strictly a D&D clone. I really have no idea if people will like it or if it would even be fun to play since I'm not there yet.

One of the things that I think is really neat, though, is that I made the math even simpler and the decisions you make even cleaner, but clouded some of the outcome certainty. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense out of context but it should become clearer over time. So far it has been pretty enjoyable to work on and it feels like it will be quick and punchy in play. Regardless, it certainly doesn't feel boring.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A modest (stat) proposal

I got into a debate over abilities in 4e and my continued opposition to the drive of 4e to consolidate in one (or a few) abilities. The output of the debate was to try a carrot approach instead of a stick and see where that gets us.

The following would probably find its home under the "1. Ability Scores" section of Leveling Up in the PHB.

Ability scores
There are two types of ability increases: heroic and paragon. A heroic ability increase can increase an ability score to a maximum of 18 and a paragon ability score can increase an ability score to any value. Two heroic ability increases can be combined to gain a single paragon increase and a single paragon increase can be traded for two heroic.

At 4th and 8th level, gain two heroic ability increases.
At 14th and 18th, gain a heroic and a paragon ability increase.
At 24th and 28th, gain two paragon ability increases.
At 11th and 21st level, increase all ability scores by 1 regardless of score.

The results
Depending on your game or your goals, you could adjust the limit of the heroic ability increase to taste. The impact would be that a player who wanted to focus on a single ability would be able to without interruption but would be rewarded if they were willing to split paragon increases up and focus on lower abilities. This would make the character more versatile overall (one of my goals) without mandating or foreclosing the "all in one stat" approach.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Why the delay?

So where did I go?

Here's the deal. When I first started posting everything was in the very abstract. Abstract conversations are neat and easy because everyone can twist the abstract to find values aligning with their own ideas. Their contributions then spur other ideas and it is genuinely helpful. Pretty much most of what I like about my current ideas were spurred from contributions from commenters on this blog.

Then I got specific and things changed.

It isn't that comments weren't helpful, it is that what I liked about my ideas was no longer abstract, but they were presented in broad strokes. A general idea ("Combat should be faster!") needs context to be presented as a rule. People then respond to that context, which is legit, but the core idea is lost in the discussion.

What I discovered is that I can iterate my ideas down easier, whittling away the ancillary context, without feedback. Critical feedback makes me want to defend the core idea when the criticism was focused on the ancillary context. This isn't really productive because I should just be figuring out ways to get rid of the ancillary stuff. Here's a visual.

The light blue is all the context and the dark blue is the core idea. Spending a while with the idea lets you cut away the context and just retain the good idea, adding it to other good ideas until something special actually exists. Of course, because language is imprecise, it is hard to communicate just that core idea. So we got a pickle.

I've been working on a lot and the game keeps taking new (and interesting) directions. I hope to share it and maybe even see people play it. Since it is my first ever real attempt at creating a game, I'm just letting it take me wherever it goes. Evidently, it took me somewhere fairly far from core D&D. When I began, I wanted to just create a set of house rules that could overlay over 4e... we're now pretty darn far away from that. So far, in fact, that I'm not even sure where I am.

Hopefully that is somewhere cool and fun.