Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Whoa, I have followers? Also FATE.

Having discovered that people actually looked at this thing I am looking at starting back up.

Today I am going to talk about the FATE rules system.  In a nutshell it is a storytelling game with a higher than average emphasis on player agency.  The rules are simple, but ultimately the statistics behind the game play a small part in why FATE games are fun.  With any skill any player (or npc) can make an aspect, which adds +2 to a skill roll.  to put things in perspective skills are (typically) rated 0-4 and you roll dice that can add -4 to +4 to your base skill.  The dice work on a pretty steep bell curve so -1 to +1 make up about 50% of the results.

What these aspects mean is that your character will likely try to use his best skill in most situations, so your barbarian won't have to roll diplomacy too often.  Extra rules, like magic, or sword skills or mech power arrays are easy to figure into the game and there are built in tools to keep combat (social or physical) from dragging on too long.  It is also important to note that your character has 5 built in character aspects, a high concept, a trouble, and three just to define the character or his/her relationships to places. organizations, or other characters (including other pcs).

The idea in FATE is not to have character optimizing sessions so that your party destroys creatures 4 CR above their level.  Fate is not a particularly good tactical miniatures game.  But it is a system that by the rules encourages role-playing.  Personally my favorite stories from my games have always been because I was invested in the story and outcome, and not my biggest crits.  So check out FATE, I have had a great time running and playing it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Behind Closed Doors

I have frequently seen Storytellers make what I consider to be a mistake, specifically that if it happens off screen anything can happen.  Established powerful characters can be beaten by established weak characters, master locks can be picked by novice thieves and son on.  This leads to a feeling of an arbitrary universe and a sense of helplessness as the pcs can't be everywhere at once and know that where they aren't any accomplishments they have made can be taken away.  We saved that village and then the dm decided fuck that and destroyed it once we were gone. 

A common reason for this is to fuel story, but with just a little forethought the story is even better if the universe isn't arbitrary.  It is fine to undo a players actions offscreen, but have it make sense and mean something.  If a well fortified town is destroyed the pcs should likely be afraid of anything that can do that.  If a goblin horde destroys Waterdeep playes can't take the game as seriously.  If a legitimate enemy managed to do the same thing it should raise a lot of questions, but as the mystery is unraveled it will be much better than an arbitrary dm's whims. 

The other common reason for this is antagonism.  If this is the case I'm afraid there's next to no worthwhile advice I can give other than don't play with an antagonistic dm and don't be an antagonistic dm.  No good can come of it, the dm can always win and it shouldn't inflate his ego that as the literal master of a universe he can squash some ants in said universe. 

When the world makes sense players will make plans that involve npcs as established facts can be counted on.  In real life we make our choices based on who we can trust and our predictions for how things will work out.  If it was a known fact that places you can't see follow strange and unknowable laws we wouldn't trust anything we weren't currently watching, and just like us neither will the pcs.  By making the world and characters in it consistent you open the door to politics, large scale battles, and the idea that the players are in a real world. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dragon Age Pen and Paper

I started looking at the Dragon Age Pen an Paper RPG and while it several regards it isn't perfect it has one thing that I think D&D lacks.  Rolling the dice is fun.  It was something I experienced with Earthdawn, a gimmick to the dice makes every roll more enjoyable.  In DA the system is to roll 3d6 one of which is a different color/size from the other two.  If the dice come up in doubles and equal or surpass the target number the result of the different die determines how many special points can be spent on the action.  This makes every roll exciting and even after the "crit" parallel decisions must be made.  In Earthdawn every die that is rolled at its max you roll again as many times as it happens.  Of course the drawback being that monsters get this too.  In D&D crits are exciting, but rare (I will note that wild sorcerers get a slice of the interesting dice roll pie).  At low enough levels I call every max damage roll a crit as a joke.  Little things like Exploding dice and doubles meaning something make the whole game a bit more fun.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Unique Play

One of the things that I really appreciate about 4th edition D&D is that the classes often play very differently from each other.  I must note that in all of this I am not talking about essentials classes, I am less studied on the essential classes and some of them were built to be simple and thus less unique in play style.  Each defender has a different marking system and a different form of punishment for violation of their mark.  Leaders have some clear similarities in that their base heals all work similarly, but the differences in what they bring to the table can be huge.  Druid's partial melee control game separates them from the rest of the controllers and the control through damage mechanic can be seen in the wizard more clearly than the others.  Strikers on the other hand have some of the least interesting play styles within their ranks.  Not to say that all strikers are boring, just that a couple have boring mechanics.

Ranger and rogue are the worst offenders as far as boring play styles go.  Rangers quarry and then proceed to hit their quarry preferably with frost weapons and the same goes for rogue.  Artful dodgers at least end up being mobile which makes them feel a little different from the rest of the rogues, but all in all they do what every striker does, try and get combat advantage and hit a guy.  Avengers on the other hand try to set up interesting lose lose situations or gain a benefit from specific positioning in combat.  Night stalker assassins only get bonus damage if they segregate their enemies.  Barbarians charge a lot and monks built in movement leads to a very mobile striker.  Warlocks have control elements built in.  Cosmic sorcerers may well change their tactics with their phases, but the rest mostly just aim to AoE the biggest pack of enemies dumb enough to clump up.  At the end of the day sneak attack, sorcerous power and quarry are not interesting mechanically.  Warlock curse while very similar to quarry actually does add to the play of the class as the rewards for a cursed target dying leads to the party choosing attacks differently so that the warlock can benefit from their actions.  Some may mention that the rogue gets preferential treatment for flanking, but once paragon hits and the frost comes out that more or less vanishes. 

A couple classes are actually made to be a different experience even when played multiple times.  To be clear I mean from a mechanics standpoint, of course from a role-playing standpoint no class dictates that you must play each character the same way.  I could play at least two clerics with almost no feeling of overlap mechanically.  I could play several warlords.  I could not play more than one rogue.  Most defenders were built to be able to reach striker or near striker level damage so each defender has at least two viable options for multiple characters.  Barbarian at least in stat line up offers three playable characters (even if whirling has some mechanical mistakes).  Which brings me to another point, Barbarian has 4 options and 3 stat line ups warden and sorcerer have 4 options and 2 stat line ups.  I feel that a different stat line up can lead to drastically different builds and thus more available replay value for the class.  Each time a stat lineup copy is made I lament for those stat lineups that could have been.  Maybe str dex or str int warden would have some neat tricks.  I can't imagine it would harm balance greatly for such a thing to exist.  That said I can see that by blah blah power 2 every stat combo would be represented (assuming two paths per book) and that perhaps some stat combos should be rare (for instance con is a very strong secondary stat).  I know I have seen players puzzle over what to play not because of a bounty of options, but rather a feeling that they have, "been there" and, "done that" and see this as a way to open up replay of classes to these people.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Unified Systems

For the record the majority of this will be written in regards to 4th edition D&D even though I feel it applies equally to all gaming systems that hold a high regard for game balance.

In 3rd ed there was a chart in the DMG suggesting the amount of damage that a spell of any given level could deal given its area/range.  Things like this help make the game more reasonable.  For instance it can be concluded that lvl 1 encounters should never do more than 3(W) damage and when they do they come at a cost as can be seen in Paladin's Heedless Fury (why does a defender get such a move?) or the Barbarian's Avalanche Strike.

If games were built with these guidelines it would be better for the game as a whole.  Power creep would be easier to spot, knowing that powers tend to be of approximately the same power would be nice especially for new players, and best of all players/dms could make new powers with far less concern that they are breaking the game.

Damage is of course the easiest thing to balance as utility is very hard to place in a balance spectrum.  For instance flight seems better than climbing, but they become very similar in areas with low ceilings.  How good a -2 or +2 to hit is extremely variable based on the current encounter.  Adding a healing surge at the cost of damage is a complicated trade.

So while I believe these unified systems are superior I admit that it is difficult to achieve, specifically in regard to feats.  That said the utter absence of a unified system is clearly bad for the game.  It leads to powers, feats, class features, and magic items that far outstrip other options.  In my perfect (and somewhat unrealistic) world optimization boards would be largely unnecessary.  Each option should be a good option so that playing even the same race/class combo multiple times can be a fulfilling option.  I feel few game designers share my dream.  In several cases simple arithmetic can tell that powers are unbalanced.  I've never been sure how things like these get on to anything other than scratch paper let alone published books.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Racial feat design

One of my favorite racial feats in the game right now is Hellfire Blood.  By itself it isn't all that special, but what it does to the game is what I think several racial feats should do.  It makes Tiefling worth a second look for any class regardless of whether they have the proper racial stats for it or not.  Maybe they end up terrible anyways, but the fact that the entire class roster is open to them despite their pure mental stat layout is far more interesting than the majority of racial feats out there.

I understand that as a game designer you don't want to spend forever making a feat that only a limited number of players will ever use.  That said 90% of racial feats are frankly not worth a feat slot.  To add to that I understand that overpowered racial feats draw away from other options so undershooting does less damage than overshooting.  There is a Tiefling feat that could go several sessions without ever seeing its relatively marginal benefits come up once called Cunning Ambusher.

On the balance level Hellfire Blood only works with fire attacks, which a flaming weapon deals with quickly.  But using a flaming weapon removes the option of the dreaded frost weapon or even the lesser powered (without building/party building) lightsaber (radiant weapon).  What it does do is very closely emulate a +2 to an accuracy stat.  If other races had feats of similar scope to Hellfire Blood 4th edition almost certainly would be a more interesting game.  Copy and paste with necrotic for revenants/shadar would work just as well.

On the other hand I feel sometimes that Draconic Arrogance and Elemental Empowerment do too much.  Any wizard who wants to pretend he is a striker is better off as a Genasi than any other race by a long shot.  Several classes (fighter in particular) would rather be a Dragonborn than any other race because of a single feat.  These make the game less interesting.  In stead of opening options they close off options by outdistancing alternatives by so much that they seem useless.  People may feel that they are limited enough in their use that they don't break the game and I understand the argument, but I can't help but feel that I never consider any race other than Genasi for wizard (in my powerbuilding thought experiments) and the Dragonborn Iron Vanguard is a beast defensively and offensively.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hi/ Mission Statement

I have been role playing for nearly twenty years and after reading an excellent blog (Square Fireballs) I have decided to start one of my own.  I will talk a bit about different systems, share a few stories and generally play with numbers from a few role playing games.  I also intend to delve into a few player and DM philosophies as to how a game should be run.  Not everyone will agree with me, but I will try to look at each stance fairly.

Right now I am into - and thus will talk more about - Dungeons and Dragons (mostly 4E) and several White Wolf games.  First few posts will likely be some builds and building option available hopefully with a unique perspective that people will think is worth their time to read =).

Story time.  I once played in a 3rd ed D&D game where the DM made a few choices that rubbed players the wrong way.  First problem was that some of the players were the "main" characters.  The story nearly always revolved around one of them.  To remove the idea that I am simply whining I must state that I was one of the two main characters.  Another other issue was rampant dice fudging.

It can be easy to have a wealth of ideas for one character, but either through lack of communication  or simply not really connecting with the character/player not have much for some of the others.  It can easily make a player feel like a squire or helper to the other/main character which most people don't like.  In this game two characters (one being mine) held considerable power within a major city.  The other characters, however, held no political power whatsoever in what was a fairly political game.  This drove a stark division as in most political situations only half the players had any part beyond commentary. 

Storytellers should make a serious effort to learn about their players and characters and throw something in for them from time to time.  A demon hunter should get to hunt a demon at least a few times.  Let the rogue shine by having plenty of traps in a few spots.  Make a Blackguard of an opposing faith for a paladin.  If a player took the time to write about the family in their back story you should use it, just don't make it a hostage situation every time.  If as a storyteller you notice a few sessions in a row have focused on one characters goals move the spotlight a bit.

On the player side of things, don't be silent.  Don't whine.  Tell your storyteller that you feel it has been hard to connect to the last couple of sessions and why.  Tell them a little about what you want from the character.  Also remember that if you are getting the spotlight every session the other players probably aren't.  Rmember that a little diplomacy can go a long ways and it could be an honest mistake of an absentminded storyteller and not a player being blatantly favored.  Don't be a hog, make a show of asking the others for help and make your character feel truly grateful.  This should ameliorate the storytellers actions.  If you notice your character getting the spotlight too much mention it to the storyteller.  Be willing to take back seat sometimes.  It can really help game.

Dice fudging is viewed very differently by several groups.  By the end of this game not a single player wanted an item or power that involved a die being rolled behind the screen.  Powers with saving throws and even personal AC seemed useless as npcs nearly never failed a saving throw and their accuracy was a statistical anomaly.  Every level 1 mob seemed to roll a natural 20 and then not confirm and monsters would hit us routinely (regardless of armor class) until the finishing blow which they could not land (regardless of armor class).

The DMs goal, I imagine, was to make the fights suspenseful by having the players in danger of dying at any moment.  The result, however, was that we never knew whether we had legitimately won and felt like we could not die because the DM would save us.  I understand not wanting to TPK your gaming group and a fudge here and there to keep game fun makes sense, but the backlash from this game led to every player wanting every roll to be in plain view.  Some players would rather die fairly than suspect that they don't deserve to be alive.  An occasional player death also reminds the players that in this world the enemies mean business and the PCs aren't immortal.

In yet another game I was the victim of absurd bad luck.  A wraith won initiative (which with my mod was actually somewhat unlikely).  Crit me, confirmed his crit and rolled max con damage which outright killed me.  Every single roll was rolled in plain view.  I felt unlucky and if it had been behind a screen perhaps it would have been fudged.  But every player knew that the rules were being followed, that it could happen to them and that the DM was not pulling punches.  Every victory through his brutal game tasted sweeter with this knowledge.  Every harrowing brush with death caused true suspense instead of the quiet assumption that the DM wouldn't kill you.   Mourning a dead character was a role-playing opportunity and the beleaguered party's role playing was a nice change from the groups that knew they were invincible.