Friday, 28 February 2014

It's the Skill of the Fight, part one

I'm supposed to be working on Monitors, but my next logical step seems to be playing with NPCs to work out a very rough way to gauge effectiveness at opposing PCs, and I don't have the energy for that. Also, particularly after some analyses of other games, I'm having second thoughts about whether the list of skills will actually promote the kind of game I'm after. So, procrastination!

For quite a while - following the post I always quote, Dan's one about Parkour Murder Simulator, and Shannon's follow-on - I've been knocking around the idea of a game where the outcome of entire combats is determined by rolling a Fight check, in just the same way that games typically resolve being sneaky, influencing NPCs or translating multi-volume works from ancient Arabic.

At the moment I'm fairly worn out and irritable, not hugely inspired by the Monitors stuff I need to do, and not feeling intellectual enough for the complicated diatribe on skills I started writing last week (pending). This feels like something a bit more logical that I should be able to work through.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Nassan: running Stick in the Mud

As mentioned a few months back, I've tentatively restarted our 4E campaign, which for various reasons (mostly wildly divergent schedules) has consisted of one one-shot in several months. This is precisely why I decideded to run one-shots.

A summary of the game can be found in three parts:

  1. The beginning
  2. The middle
  3. The end

Since I'm hoping to finally manage another session shortly, I wanted to have a bit of a think about the GMing side of things. Also I wanted to briefly talk about the changes I made to the scenario.

Behind the Screen

So, the game in general. On the whole I felt this went pretty well.

Our session (Stick in the Mud, from Dungeon #171) in about five hours all told, with some tea breaks and chatter, but not that much. Unfortunately, writeup not withstanding, we didn't quite have time to finish it as at least one player had to rush off, and it seemed better to narrate a wrap-up than tail off. Considering that none of us had played (or GMed) 4E for a couple of years, most hadn't gamed at all for months, and one player was new, I still think it was a respectable time given the drawn-out combats of 4E.

The players did reasonably well at remembering how things worked and the details of their characters. There was a fair amount of looking stuff up and explaining play, but that's what the GM's for in these circumstances. I was also reasonably happy with how well I remembered most things, although a few rules would bear looking up beforehand. I should really make sure to dig out (and update!) the GM screen before next session. Because of the aforesaid rustiness, and because we're a fairly casual group anyway, I was extra helpful in giving hints and advising on tactical issues. There's quite a lot to remember in tactical play, and I don't see the point in punishing players for not remembering all the details of opportunity attacks, or letting them waste dailies on a minion, especially when we're all out of practice. I'd much rather try and help them learn to play more effectively so we can all enjoy the fight, and of course the better they get, the tricksier I can get.

In the event, we were short one player. We were actually missing our ranger, who's a big damage-dealer and has the best equipment for various reasons, as well as being very analytical. However, I'd deliberately picked a low-level adventure to allow for rustiness (and because I liked it, admittedly), so on the whole the balance seemed quite decent, leaving the party badly battered and scared, but not actually in serious danger.

One player had forgotten her character sheet, which caused a bit of administrative trouble. We were able to scribble down most of the information, but it wasted some time at the start of the session and necessitated a bit of extra looking-up.

Somewhat to my surprise, the players who took part seemed quite happy to have skipped the questgiving. I think the missing player is keener on with-NPC roleplaying so I'll try to make sure there are some opportunities next time. But I feel like I judged that reasonably, which is nice.

Magic item balance

As I mentioned in the initial post, I wasn't sure where people stood with magic items. As it turned out, they were wildly unbalanced. Our previous adventure was an incomplete attempt at Keep on the Shadowfell, during which they acquired a number of magic items. As it turns out, the most powerful items they'd discovered (Bloodcut Hide Armour, an Aecris Longsword and a Vicious Short Sword) all happened to suit the same character, our ranger Varis, and the party allocated them all to him. Other characters had picked up only some plot artefacts and low-powered items. Having never finished the adventure, we never got the whole range of magical items, which might have led to a redistribution between characters, and the players were perhaps unaware of D&D's expectations about how items would be distributed (which is to say, fairly evenly). The end result was that Varis had a Level 4, a Level 5 and a Level 2 magic item, while everyone else had about 2 levels in total. I believe the expectation was that each character might have one level 4-5 item and one 2-3.

It seemed rather unfair to strip Varis of his items, and what I ended up doing was giving the others slightly more stuff than they ought to have, while not quite bringing them up to Varis' level. This was particularly true for Raylin (imported from Pathfinder) and Adrik (entirely new character). Partly as a consequence, I avoided giving out much magical loot in Stick in the Mud - they're at level 3 but actually have about as much loot as they should gain for the next level or two. So it will be stingy DMing for a while. While I did include some useful items, I carefully chose ones that aren't combat-related, which should be handy for exploring and such without unbalancing things too much.

Future notes

I think for the next session I might try and have a quick tactical recap beforehand. They were a bit hazy on their use of powers, particularly Encounters and Dailies, and somewhat reluctant to use them. I might discuss how these can be used early in a fight to get an early advantage and provide ongoing benefits, rather than kept to finish the fight once it proves to be difficult. It can be much more efficient, especially if some enemies can be eliminated early on, because fewer rounds means fewer hits.

Similarly I might have a mention of concentrating fire to take down a small number of targets, rather than spreading attacks around, because D&D just doesn't really model the suppression, intimidation or debilitation that might make it worthwhile in reality.

Finally, it might be worth talking about roles (which 4E explicitly encourages) and the idea of playing to the strengths of your role.

While the players were mildly entertained by the magic loot I'd come up with, they weren't especially interested in any of it, and decided to just flog everything off next time they were in town. That was quite a letdown, and I don't think I'll be spending much effort on that in future. It's quite fun coming up with the stuff, but if it's only ever going to get a second or two of game time, rather than anything looking for ways to use it, there's really no point. I'd spent quite a while coming up with fun stuff that was mildly useful but not Magic Item useful, and it's not really a good use of time in the circs.

The scenario

Most of the changes I made to Stick in the Mud were to adapt the scenario to my new premise.

Original premise: A long-ruined building contains the buried workshop of a powerful wizard. Bullywugs have moved into the area and begun messing with a powerful staff, opening a rift to the Elemental Chaos. Adventurers are, coincidentally, sent there on some mission or other at about the same time.

My premise: An elemental staff has been stolen from a scholarly archive. The adventurers are sent to retrieve it. The thief turns out to have meddled with it and opened a rift to the Elemental Chaos, attracting bullywugs to the area.

The changes mostly consisted of altering explanations for things. In some cases I added additional "boxed text" to better fit the situation as I pictured it. In particular, I wanted to emphasise the weird effects of proximity to a planar rift. In other cases I shifted things so that there was an explanation players could get at all, since one of my reservations about the written scenario was that most of the background wasn't realistically learnable by PCs.

A couple of examples:

The ritual chamber

The large chamber was once a ritual chamber where the temple's inhabitants would invoke the aid of their gods or summon servitors. It survived the meteor strike better than the rest of the complex, being deep and strongly-built, and its condition led Tildis to use it as a vault for her stolen treasures. A strange synergy between the malfunctioning staff and the chamber have opened a rift to the Elemental Chaos. The staff has been spewing mud from the Elemental Chaos for weeks now, and the area around the staff is a swirling mire of churning mud. Within it lurks the growing form of a mud writher, a mass of tendrils and maws whose malleable body was able to squeeze through the rift. The writher lurks within the mud around the staff, and is, for all intents and purposes, invisible to the PCs until they attack (barring lengthy observation).

This stone vault is lined with shelves holding many strange devices. Some of them even appear to be intact and might be valuable. However, your most pressing concern lies at the southern end of the room, in a small alcove, where a thick, stone staff juts out from a churning vortex of mud. The earth all around heaves and cracks, and the stone walls have sprouted into fantastical organic shapes.

Note that while I call it "boxed text", this is basically aides-memoire for me. I just tend to write in that style even when it's notes for my own use.


Since I went to the trouble of creating them, I might as well share the treasures I invented for this scenario. Someone else might like them.

  • A large Glittergold coin, whose designs constantly shift to display myths of the gnomish deity. A Religion check (DC 10) can reveal that such coins are quite prized by the priesthood and used by initiates to memorise and teach their precepts.
  • A pack of gambler's cards, impossible to mark or crease, which will reshuffle themselves when gathed and tossed into the air, or sort themselves and return to their pack at a command. They bear the four elemental suits.
  • A reel of green seeking thread, which will fasten itself to a needle when tapped with it, and will not come untied.
  • A vanity comb, which leaves hair clean and glossy without water or soap. Once per day, it can be used to create an elegant hairstyle in mere moments, although its ideas are quite old-fashioned.
  • Flasks containing tiny amounts of highly pure elemental earth, water, fire and air. These can be used as components in any rituals, each flask providing 50gp of components.
  • Eleven small lodestones
  • A geomantic dowsing rod, which a trained practitioner can use to assess the geology and ley lines of an area.

More notable items include a belt of vigour, eternal chalk, Aldron's firebox and a floating lantern. There are several dozen mundane books recently arranged on the bookshelves, some bearing marks of ownership from various Peragian institutions. Most relate to geomancy, elementals or the natural world.

The Guildhall will also offer their support and good word. The gift of silver signet ring apiece indicates their status as friends of the Guild. The Guildhall's favour ring is lightly enchanted, providing a single use of an arcane at-will power of the owner's choice, as well as its social benefits.


Because I wasn't very keen on the coincidence-based premise, it didn't really make sense for bullywugs to be the main problem at the site. I also felt that the fights were looking very repetitive; aside from some environmental changes (which are a very reasonably way to vary fights) they consisted of three fights in three consecutive rooms with three very similar groups of bullywugs. If, say, one had been a mass of minions and another a few very tough critters, it might have made more difference.

What I ended up doing was basically reskinning some of the bullywugs. Having emphasised the geomancy and Elemental Chaos side of things in the setup, I thought it would be nice to have more elementals in the scenario. Also, they're good for guilt-free slaughter!

Not wanting to totally replan the combats by picking entirely different creatures, I changed various keywords and descriptions while keeping many essential features the same. I was particularly pleased with the quartz strider and its light-refracting powers, which allows it to replace a spellcaster.

Originally, the scenario builds up to an encounter with four very minor elementals next to the rift. Having already introduced elementals a little earlier on, this felt a bit anticlimactic, so I instead reskinned those to be individual tendrils of a much larger elemental that had occupied the entire room and melded into the earthy floor. Unfortunately, I never got to use it as the game ended early. Alas!

I present these monsters here for any other DMs who may find them useful. All are made with Monster Maker, but I completely redid the CSS for aesthetic reasons, as described in an earlier post.

Rumbleshard Level 3 Minion
Medium Elemental Magical Beast (air, earth) XP 37
Initiative +3 Senses Perception +0
Haze (earth) aura 1; creatures within the aura gain partial concealment against ranged attacks.
HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion.
AC 14; Fortitude 12, Reflex 14, Will 12
Resist 5 thunder
Speed 4, fly 6
M Rending Shards (Standard; at-will)
+6 vs. AC; 7 damage.
c Shatter (Standard; at-will)
Close blast 2; +4 vs. Reflex; 4 damage.
Alignment Unaligned Languages Primordial
Skills Acrobatics +6
Str 10 (+1) Dex 14 (+3) Wis 10 (+1)
Con 14 (+3) Int 6 (-1) Cha 5 (-2)

Rumbleshard Lore

A character knows the following information with a successful Arcana check.

DC 15: A rumbleshard is an elemental mass of rocky shards and air.

DC 20: A rumbleshard's whirling shards can explode into clouds of shrapnel.

DC 25: Rumbleshards' airy nature makes them resistant to thunder damage.

Mire Gulper Level 3 Controller
Medium Elemental Beast (earth, water) XP 150
Initiative +5 Senses Perception +6
HP 44; Bloodied 22
AC 18; Fortitude 15, Reflex 16, Will 13
Speed 4
M Bite (Standard; at-will)
+8 vs. AC; 1d6 + 3 damage, and a Medium or smaller target is swallowed. A swallowed target is stunned, takes ongoing 5 damage, and can't be targeted by any effect (save ends all effects). A mire gulper can have only one target swallowed at a time and cannot make bite attacks as long as the swallowed target is alive.
c Mighty Inhalation (Minor; at-will)
Ranged 3; +7 vs. Reflex; the target is pulled 2 squares.
Earthenmeld (Move; at-will)
The mire gulper shifts 4 squares by melting into the ground. It can shift through enemy squares as long as it ends its movement in an unoccupied space.
Alignment Unaligned Languages -
Skills Athletics +8, Stealth +9
Str 14 (+3) Dex 17 (+4) Wis 11 (+1)
Con 12 (+2) Int 2 (-3) Cha 6 (-1)

Mire Gulper Lore

A character knows the following information with a successful Arcana check.

DC 15: This is a mire gulper, a voracious earth and water elemental.

DC 20: The mire gulper engulfs victims to digest later, and can produce a powerful draft to drag creatures towards it.

Quartz Strider Level 3 Artillery (Leader)
Medium Elemental Beast (earth) XP 150
Initiative +2 Senses Perception +9
HP 39; Bloodied 19
AC 16; Fortitude 14, Reflex 14, Will 16
Speed 6
M Stone Claw (Standard; at-will)
+8 vs. AC; 1d8 +1 damage
c Incandescent Refraction (Standard; recharge 6) ♦ Fire, Radiant
Close blast 3; +6 vs. Reflex; 2d6 + 4 fire and radiant damage, and the target is dazed until the end of the quartz strider's next turn. Miss: Half damage
a Electric Discharge (Standard; at-will) ♦ Lightning, Thunder
Area burst 1 within 20; +6 vs. Reflex; 1d10 + 4 lightning and thunder damage.
Alignment Unaligned Languages Primordial
Str 12 (+2) Dex 14 (+3) Wis 16 (+4)
Con 15 (+3) Int 11 (+1) Cha 10 (+1)

Quartz Strider Lore

A character knows the following information with a successful Arcana check.

DC 15: This is a quartz strider, a crystalline elemental (earth)

DC 20: The quartz strider can use its body to channel energy into violent bursts.

Mud Writher Tendril Level 2 Brute
Small Elemental Magical Beast (earth, water) XP 125
Initiative +2 Senses Perception +7
HP 43; Bloodied 21
AC 14; Fortitude 15, Reflex 13, Will 13
Immune disease, poison
Speed 5
M Slam (Standard; at-will)
+5 vs. AC; 1d10 + 3 damage.
r Mud Ball (Standard; at-will)
Ranged 10; +3 vs. Reflex; the target is slowed (save ends). If the target is already slowed, it is instead immobilized (save ends).
Realignment (Immediate Reaction; encounter)
When hit by a melee attack, the tendril shifts 3 squares.
Sense Weakness
The mud writher tendril gains a +2 bonus to attack rolls against slowed or immobilized creatures.
Alignment Unaligned Languages -
Skills Stealth +7
Str 16 (+4) Dex 13 (+2) Wis 13 (+2)
Con 13 (+2) Int 6 (-1) Cha 8 (+0)

Mud Writher Lore

A character knows the following information with a successful Arcana check.

DC 15: This is a mud writher, an amorphous mass of tentacles and sucking mouths that melds into the ground (earth, water)

DC 20: The mud writher can reform itself rapidly to escape danger. It can expel clinging mud from its mouths to hamper opponents, making them more vulnerable to its attacks.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Nassan: what of earth?

A very, very late conclusion to this adventure! Sorry about that...

Before moving on, the party search the disintegrating remains of the study. There is little to find here but long-rotted paper and broken furnishings. However, Varis unearths a sealed brass scroll-case whose contents seem to still be intact, protected by the airtight wax from centuries of decay. A crumbling shelf yields two rune-inscribed pottery sticks that Raylin identifies as "very primitive" healing charms.

Passing carefully through another door, they find themselves in a large room with stone furnishings, where crystalline shards set into the walls cast a faint pinkish glow. At a glance, it looks like an antechamber. Bisclavret suggests it may be a preparation room, where devotees of the temple donned ritual garments (or disrobed, of course) or performed preliminary rites. The remnants of alchemical or ritual apparatus still linger on the shelves and tables. Braziers stand unlit in the corners, suggesting no bullywugs have ventured this far; however, the earthen floor is almost swamplike. That the light spells still linger is a testament to the temple's builders, but Myraneth decides the spells themselves are of little interest. A large, imposing stone door is the only route remaining; the mud appears to be gently flowing in from underneath it. The source of the planar disturbance must lie this way.

As Myraneth strides towards the door, hulking shapes stir within the thick mud deeper into the room. The shapes approach rapidly to investigate, flowing through the mud in a disquieting way. As they burst to the surface, the adventurers realise they are not simply muddy beasts, but elementals of living mire. Clearly Tildis has been meddling with the staff, and unleashed some kind of elemental magic. The creatures seem aggressive, probably protecting their territory, and conflict is unavoidable.

Facing off against two of the creatures, poor Myraneth is sucked directly into the elemental's maw, where she flails helplessly and begins to suffocate. It dives back into the swamp and retreats to finish consuming this thrashing prey in peace. Her friends rush in to try and save her, while fending off the other creature.

Meanwhile, further shapes stir into life. Whirling clouds of debris emerge to batter at Raylin as she lingers at the rear, exploding into slicing fragments before reforming. As Bisclavret and Adrik rush after Myraneth's captor, they realise a spindly thing of crystal stilts has been standing unseen like a stick insect. Faint light glows within its body, before refracting sharply into beams of searing brightness. An invocation from Raylin hammers at its alien mind, disrupting the crystals and causing it to realign into a jumbled pile, perfect for a ferocious attack from the raging dwarf.

The party manage to free Myraneth, only for Bisclavret to be seized and carried off by the remaining mire gulper. The crystalline quartz strider regains its footing, never actually moving, merely altering the alignment of its crystals to create a new form. Its energy bursts wreak havoc on the belligerent mortals, nearly killing the weakened Myraneth, as well as annihilating some of the weaker elementals. The battle is long and vicious, and when the adventurers emerge victorious, all but hardy Adrik are badly wounded. They pause to recover their breath before advancing.

Cautiously forcing open the heavy door, they find the ritual chamber, as expected. It is very dark, but an odd flickering light from the far end casts long shadows. Diases and lighting alcoves around the room are obvious signs of formal use, at least to trained eyes. Massive stone pillars hold up the roof, which was once painted brightly. Strangely, stony growths protrude from walls and pillars alike, growing stranger further in. The floor is completely covered by thick, swampy mud that heaves and cracks constantly. Myraneth and Raylin realise that a minor planar rift has been opened to the Elemental Chaos, letting elemental influences and entities alike creep through, while the arcane energies most likely attracted the bullywugs. Even without their guidance, it's obvious to all that the flickering glow is the source of their problems. The further into the room they venture, the more extreme the effects of the planar bleed on the native earth around them.

Advancing carefully towards the rift, the party are alarmed but not entirely surprised when the mire around them erupts dramatically. Writhing rocky tentacles lash out at them and slimy maws gape in the floor. To their dismay, the whole chamber seems to be occupied by a single large and angry elemental: a mud writher. Despite a barrage of cloying mud that weighs them down, the party gradually batter the creature into submission, and it retains the intelligence to ooze its way back through the portal rather than stay to be destroyed.

The party are eager to close the portal as soon as possible, before more creatures can emerge. This far into the chamber, the walls and pillars have sprouted and warped into fantastical organic shapes under the arcane radiation from the rift. They might almost be deep under the sea, or in a vast and ancient cavern. Digging through their packs for useful components, the group combine their efforts to seal the portal. With much eldritch muttering and prayerful chant, and not a little falling over in the never-ceasing flow of mud, they eventually see the wrinkle in reality fold together and vanish. The mud ceases to flow, and arcane senses no longer feel the roar of the Elemental Chaos. In its place, a large staff of solid stone clatters to the floor.

Now lit only by lanterns, the ritual chamber is in surprisingly good shape. It shows signs of recent occupation, not only by elementals, but something more familiar. The highest shelves around the walls house a number of boxes and books that are clearly not as ancient as the other items they have found. The walls themselves are almost totally covered in red chalk writing, except where decorative plaques are set into the wall. The writing is in modern Elvish, and after a few minutes of painful study, Myraneth realises they are erratic notes on a magical theory. Their author was clearly both mentally unstable and entirely wrong.

The books are a mixture of academic works and folklore, mostly touching on geomancy and the natural world. Most of them are marked with the names of various respected libraries, from where they've presumably been stolen. The boxes turn out to contain an array of magical trinkets and paraphernalia, carefully packed away to preserve them. Many are simply gaudy or pseudomagical, but some bear minor enchantments. One of these items is the stick of magical chalk used to etch Tildis' theory. Speaking of which...

Searching the room carefully, and even using some of Myraneth's lesser magics to clean away the mud, they discover a strange coccoon in one corner. Breaching it, they find the comatose and half-starved body of the wayward scholar, clutching a now-depleted protective charm. After a cursory health check and some slightly begrudging treatment, she is bound and gagged to prevent any misbehaviour. Gathering up staff, magical trinkets, Tildis and anything else that looks interesting, the party slowly make their way back to the surface, to rest up before the long journey back.


On returning Tildis and the staff to the Guildhalls, the group are greeting with warm thanks and reminders of the need for discretion. The staff is restored to the hands of the Archivist, who this time makes immediate arrangements for its proper storage and protection. Tildis is quickly taken away for proper treatment, and likely to endure a very long stay in one of the nearby shrines; there is some hope her sanity can be restored. The Archwizards hold a private but luxurious feast to honour their agents, and after much fine dining and speechifying, they are each presented with a silver seal ring, marking them out as honoured friends of the Guildhalls. A trace of arcane power lingers within the ring, a small measure of protection in case of trouble.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Mouse Guard seems interesting

Sorry for lack of posts. There are a few in the pipeline but in no shape to publish. I've just got an awful lot of IRL stuff going on at the moment and not much energy for writing anything interesting. Definitely not for further Monitors development, which is frustrating because it's tantalisingly close to alpha-playtestable.

Recently I've listened to several Mouse Guard APs and despite finding it rather alien (I've never played Burning Wheel, and my only experience with storygames was not a great success, although I don't think it's a storygame per se but has a few influences that way maybe? I dunno. I'm not the RPG theory guy. It's a bit different from D&D or Call of Cthulhu is what I'm saying.

Anyway, these APs - specifically The Walking Eye and Roo Sack Gamers archives APs - have tickled my interest and stirred a quiet desire to give the game a try. But I've got a few games stacked up not yet played, so let's not get too carried away.

I kind of like some of the ideas in it, like mechanics for stuff you care about and possibly the way conflicts get handled, although without actually knowing the rules it's a bit hard to be sure. It also seems like a way to find out about Burning Wheel, which everything I've heard suggests is notoriously complicated and drawn-out to start playing, without actually playing Burning Wheel. Mostly, in all honesty, I like the idea of playing heroic mice. I'm currently hunting for more APs because it's grabbed my interest and APs are effectively my sports viewing.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Numenera: the Beale of Boregal, part six

This recording comes mostly from a laptop mic, and so the audio quality is dubious. I recommend listening on speakers rather than headphones if possible. Many apologies.

Here begin the spoilers for the starter scenario The Beale of Boregal, and as always be aware that our podcasts are not entirely family-friendly.

Post-Game Chat

Link to episode 06

We basically chew the fat about our feelings on Numenera, the scenario and some general RPG stuff. It was a pretty mixed experience: Arthur was not impressed, Dan hasa variety of issues with it but is strangely drawn to it nevertheless, K really just wanted to play Dying Earth, and I quite liked it but struggled to get a handle on the setting and expectations.

This discussion goes all over the place. We talk about a lot of little aspects that didn't really come up in play, and do some analysis of the mechanics and setting now that we've seen a bit more of things.

We talk about the importance of having similar expectations for a game to creating suitable characters (and thus the advantages of group chargen), and the difficulty of forming a firm impression of the setting. On the whole, with only Arthur having read the book, we came away with the feeling that it's basically a mashup of all sorts of things that Monte Cook thought were cool, but with no overriding coherent aesthetic that tied it all together for us. I expound on the dearth of proper ecology in RPGs, and on flavour balance between classes. Arthur finds the magic/tech balance unsatisfactory considering the source material cited by Numenera.

GM Intervention is considered a bit with some discussion of FATE's Aspects and their relative merits discussed. In passing, paladins are judged and found wanting - I've personally always thought they're inappropriate as a base class and possibly as anything but a very specific PC with a very specific background in a very specific group. Connections also come up, and while we like the idea they seem riddled with pitfalls.

The Nibovian Wife briefly annoys us all, but there's already tons of discussion of that particular issue, you can find it easily.

We also do a very small amount of levelling up with the handful of XP we've earned. It isn't particularly riveting.

Hope you enjoyed it; again, many apologies for the recording quality. I'll try to do better next time.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Feckless Wastrels: some more mechanics

Having outlined some very rough mechanics last time, let’s take a look at some specifics.


Influences are the factors that mostly affect what you can, want to and must do. There are two internal Influences (Pride and Mood), which indicate how you feel about things, and two external ones (Fidelity and Respectability), which indicate what people think of you. As these increase or decrease, your interactions with the rest of the world change.


Pride represents a combination of self-esteem, self-image, egotism, actual pride, resolve and bloody-mindedness. Pride makes it harder to do badly at things, tolerate provocation, accept criticism and refuse flattering requests. On the other hand, it makes it easier to stick to your guns, or push beyond your normal limits rather than accept defeat. Running out of Pride leaves you humbled, broken and shameless, a prey to any familial scheme or criminal opportunity; topping-out Pride leaves you puffed-up and manipulable, easy pickings for any wily matchmaker or would-be debtor.

You gain Pride when something happens that increases your opinion of yourself. NPCs may use flattery to try and puff you up so it's hard to say no to them. Having your plans go off smoothly, getting praised or coming up with a dashed clever idea could all increase Pride. You lose Pride when things happen to decrease your opinion of yourself, such as being humiliated, having a plan go badly wrong or realising that you are a cad and bounder.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Feckless Wastrels: some mechanics

Having a certain amount of free time on my hands today, I thought I would once again squander some time devising mechanics for a game that is vanishingly unlikely to ever see the light of day.

The game seems to naturally lend itself to a dicepool system, so I'll go with that as a starting point. This is very much a first draft.

An important part of the game, I think, is the constraints of society. Anyone with any pretence to be any kind of decent cove must keep up certain standards of behaviour, which means outright refusals and impoliteness are to be avoided. Besides, that sort of thing is likely to bring familial wrath down upon one's head. The weapons of the wastrel, therefore, are chiefly evasion, inadequacy and an impression of irresponsibility that cause would-be demanders to throw up their arms and sigh. There are occasional situations where frank rudeness is acceptable, but these are an exception to the rule.

This time I think I am actually going for an abrasive damage system. The game is largely a bit old social dance; you're trying to shirk responsibility and manage your image, while maintaining self-respect and a comfortable life. People try to influence you by prodding at bits of your psyche, socially trapping you into doing what they want or occasionally through simple blackmail. Events and interactions, including your own achievements, influence both how you feel and what people think of you.

Outline mechanics

This will possibly sound a bit complex for what it is, but bear with me.

Characters will be built around four sets of properties: Attributes, Influences, Traits and Inclinations. The first two are the core of the game.

Attributes determine your ability to get things done, and are very broad, probably four or five in total. You roll these whenever there's uncertainty over the outcome of an action. Your attribute score, from 1 to 5, determines your dicepool. High is good, provided you want to succeed. This is not necessarily the case. Attributes may vary from their initial score, but only temporarily.

Influences are factors that, well, influence you. They are emotional and social pressures that affect your ability and desire to succeed. Each has a range from Dreadful to Excellent, with a Moderate midpoint. In any situation where that influence is relevant, it will force you to reroll a number of successes or failures based on its current status, depending whether it would increase or decrease your likelihood of success. Note the word "force". Influences fluctuate throughout the character's life depending on their actions - these are the erosive damage bit I mentioned earlier.

Traits are your personality. They affect your ability to succeed in certain situations. Whenever a trait would be relevant, it adds or removes a die from your pool as deemed appropriate.

Inclinations are things you're interested in, like or that have an irresistible fascination for you. The chance to indulge an inclination makes a course of action more tempting. I'm not sure whether these will have any mechanical effect or just be chargen prompts.

Other stuff

Characters (or the group as a whole) will also want to outline a handful of NPCs and locations to work around. These will provide the basis for various shenanigans.

Actual events could quite conceivable be randomly generated, at least in skeleton form. There's a fairly small subset of activities that steer Wodehousian plots.

Very basic example

Needing to steal a pig, Jerry has to use his measly Physique attribute (2 dice) to shove it into a lorry. A mild Influence spurs him on, obliging him to reroll one failure. Luckily, he wants to succeed, so this is beneficial. His Stubborn trait grants an additional die because he is determined to steal that pig despite aching muscles and muddy trousers.

Later, Jerry is compelled to show Sir Oswald Foutherby around the grounds. This is deeply unfortunate because it's part of an auntly plot to drag him into paid employment. He doesn't at all want to make a good impression; failure is good here. He uses a social attribute to determine his success, and his Pride forces him to be relatively polite and not appear too dense, rerolling some failures. Things don't look promising.

Monitors: spelling reforms

I think it's time to play around with spells again.

Firstly, I want to clarify the meaning of Concentration. A spell maintained by Concentration means that the wizard cannot do anything else that requires an Action, other than moving, without ending the spell.

New spells

Petition the Servants of Flame

As the wizard chants, a writhing flame-spirit appears to coil around them, ready to grant a favour before returning to its fiery domain.

The spirit can do anything achievable by normal flame, but is intelligent enough to control its abilities. The wizard can give it a single task to complete. It will linger long enough to boil a cauldron of water or melt a few cubic metres of ice, but will not remain indefinitely. The spirit can be asked to attack an enemy or defend the wizard.

The spirit is an elemental with 1 Wound. It has 12 in Agility, and 4 in Combat, Endurance, Perception and Will. It has Fast speed and floats up to three feet off the ground. The spirit is destroyed by any substantial quantity of water, or by smothering. Its fluid body can pass through spaces at least 6" across. Its attacks are Fire, and touching it can inflict a Wound (Armour) or ignite flammable materials. It is not hot enough to melt common metals.

This spell persists for a few minutes, until the task is completed, or the wizard dismisses the spirit.

The spirit is very vulnerable to damage, having no Armour or other defences, and if it's summoned during combat, it will need to use that high Agility to avoid attacks, slowing it down. It's not very good at fighting, but can easily provide distractions by setting things alight and swirling around being made of fire. This is really meant to be a utility summons, which the wizard can use simply or creatively as they choose.

I'm trying to keep the rules simple, which having creatures made of fire tends to complicate. Hopefully the above is a reasonable compromise.

A slight reservation: in theory this could be used to get around the heat-point economy by having one wizard summon a spirit and then the whole party warm themselves on it. I'm kind of hoping people won't do that, although I could apply some kind of specific restriction.

Opalescent Bulwark

Pearly mist spills from the wizard's fingers to weave a shimmering disk, deflecting threats with the strength of steel.

A bulkwalk forms an approximate disc up to thirty feet in diameter within Short range, as the wizard wishes; if it overlaps with objects, the disc ends at that point. The bulwark is immovable and tries to repel any significant force or sizeable object, including bullets, creatures, falling rocks, strong winds or kinetic bolts. It has an effective Strength of 20. It will try to repel liquids, but has no effect on gases, small slow-moving objects (including most insects and vermin) or many forms of energy. Fast-moving objects may rebound from the disc.

The bulkwark is destroyed if it absorbs five Wounds, or if its Strength is overcome in an opposed roll, though it will tend to slow anything crashing through it. Vision through the bulwark is impaired (-5) due to its translucence.

This spell is maintained by concentration within Short range.

Now that I have an opposed roll mechanic, I can do things like this. Hoorah!

This is your classic magic shield spell, but I'm trying to keep things a bit more flexible. It's useful in combat, but also potentially problematic, as the bulwark doesn't distinguish friend from foe. In theory, you could roll a grenade slowly through it. It's perhaps more useful as a defence against other hazards like falling rubble. Because it's a field of force, the spell can also be used to seal doorways or even to create bridges.

I've included some specifics on size and range, but these are intended as general guidelines rather than hard rules. Basically, as usual, I'm concerned about unintended uses that cause problems I hadn't thought of if I don't give a reasonably specific idea of how I picture the spell working. I am probably being over-anxious - creativity is good, after all. On the other hand, I can immediately see this being used to destroy distant aircraft (sudden in-flight collision) and there are bound to be other unwanted uses.

Does it affect energy beams or spells? Dunno.

Sculptor of Unfathomed Seas

The wizard projects their mind into water, wielding it like an extension of their own body. They can alter the shape of a nearby body of water, moulding it like a solid object. Any water detached from the bulk returns to normal. Only liquid water is affected. The spell has no effect on water creatures.

The wizard can form rough shapes up to 10m in diameter within Medium range, including bubbles, pillars, hoops and waves. They can merge small pools and control the resulting larger mass. Currents can be altered to move things within the water. Things can pass into and out of the water as normal.

Waves strike as a Blast, knocking creatures down and back unless they roll Strength. Some attacks may engulf creatures. Waves and other effects may damage objects, as determined by the GM. Creatures can use Strength to overcome currents and other forced movement.

The spell can be maintained by concentration for up to one minute, and can be extended by expending additional thermal energy at that time. Each change requires an action.

At the GM’s discretion, this spell may affect other liquids, potentially requiring an Occult roll to successfully modify the casting.

This is another utility spell, and something of a niche one, because you need a source of significant water. But there’s a fair amount of that to be found, and I think it’s a fairly decent spell. I’ve spent ages trying to cut down the amount of specific text while conveying the impression I’m after. The idea is that the water continues to behave like water; you’re not levitating it, it can’t suddenly support your weight on surface tension alone, it’s not suddenly solid. You might use it to extinguish fires by moving water from one place to another, to walk through a lake and stay dry, to batter enemies with liquid fists, or even to create a bridge of water and swim across a gap (this is perfectly possible as long as the water’s a few feet deep). You could stand on a wooden platform and draw water from the sewers into a pillar that raises you to the third-storey window. You could carry fish out of a lake and into a tank.

I don't really want to place strict limits on spells, I'd prefer them to offer scope for creativity, but I also don't want players demanding to turn an ocean into a vast flying water-giant because there's no restriction of the scope of the spell. I'm trying to leave things as open as possible and will keep an eye out for what needs stating. Do I need to specify that you can't levitate water? That if you turn a pool of water into a single thin column it will fall over? That if you only use half the pool for the column, it shouldn't fall over because it has a supporting base? That you can't simultaneously control a large number of currents and moving parts? How much detail do I need to give about using the spell for attacks?

Stillness from Strife

At the wizard's gesture, all falls still, momentum dispersing instantly in a flicker of light.

The spell affects a small area or one substantial object within Short range. Any kinetic energy is transformed into light, stopping movement immediately and reducing momentum to zero. Falling objects are cushioned, while airborne objects (including creatures) begin to fall. Blows are halted in mid-strike and wind ceases. Large quantities of energy may result in Blind Dice of up to 1d6 (Visor avoids).

Explosions are partly muffled as expansion slows for a moment; halve the Strength of any explosion, or offer +5 to Armour rolls.

The spell does not affect bodily organs, components of most machines, and similar objects as the GM determines.

A very large object targeted by the spell may be damaged as though in a collision, due to variation in speed between its component parts. Effects are entirely at the GM's discretion.

This spell is instantaneous.

This one came to me out of nowhere, but I quite like the idea of snapping your fingers (while, of course, proclaiming a loud and brain-wrenching phrase) and having everything just... stop. You can obviously use it to do things like shield yourself from a hail of arrows, stop a charging beast or survive the failure of a hovercar's engines. I'm sure there are other creative uses, which a physicist would immediately spot. I included the light-flare thing both because it vaguely placates the scientist in me, and because I thought it was fun (sound was also an option, and I might still change my mind, but light seemed more tranquil somehow).

The bodily organs bit is to stop this from turning into a munchkin spell, because in theory you could argue that this will halt electrical impulses and so on, shutting down more or less any piece of equipment (including robots, war machines, computers), and likely wreaking havoc on living creatures.

I haven't explicitly said so, but this spell operates on fictional physics not real physics; you aren't supposed to worry about planetary movement or the expansion of the universe! Hopefully that's obvious from every other aspect of the game.

No revision needed

I'm pretty happy with these spells here, but repeating them for my own convenience.

Onslaught of Wrathful Winds

A howling wind erupts around the wizard, rushing in whatever direction they desire. Nearby creatures must battle against the wind (roll Strength) or be slowed, dragged along or hurled off their feet. Small objects are blown around, and in dusty surroundings debris may choke and blind (Blind 1d4 vs. Visor) those affected. This spell may stir or quench fires, drive away gases, ward against flames or sprays of liquid, and so on. It can counter the effects of existing winds, including another instance of this spell.

Roll Will once to shield potential targets (such as allies) from the wind's effects.

This spell can be maintained by concentration. It does not work in confined spaces, nor in a vacuum. At the GM's discretion it may work underwater by evoking a powerful current. It may also travel with the wizard, allowing its use to power a sailing vessel.

Unchaining of the Wild

Vegetation erupts into furious growth, ensnaring creatures and enveloping structures in an area. Creatures may be trapped by the tangling plants, and objects or mechanisms immobilised. Under appropriate circumstances, the plants may hold together damaged buildings, cushion falls, slow down speeding objects, reduce visibility and so on.

This spell is limited to Medium range. It does not create plants from nothing, and its effect will vary with the quantity and nature of local vegetation. They may exceed the normal limits of growth for their species. Effects on fungi and bizarre extraterrestrial organisms are entirely at the GM's discretion. The wizard has no direct control over the plants but can guide their general growth towards particular ends. The growth is as permanent as any natural growth. Sentient plant creatures may ignore the usual effects of the spell and incur other effects at the GM's discretion.

Covenant with Night

Pure darkness roils through the air, blotting out sight and warmth alike. No light from infra-red to ultraviolet can penetrate it, and creatures within are unable to see at all. Navigation by sound and touch is possible. Other electromagnetic wavelengths, including radio, gamma and X-rays, can penetrate it. The darkness does not cause cooling, but blocks most sources of heat.

This spell affects a moderate area within Medium range. It persists for a few minutes before fading out, and cannot be moved once cast. As a rule of thumb, apply a -10 Blind penalty to affected creatures, as well as any sensible consequences for total inability to see.

I cheated slightly here because I've mildly tweaked the wording to reflect changes to how Blind works.

The phrase As a rule of thumb, apply a -10 Blind penalty to affected creatures, as well as any sensible consequences for total inability to see. will probably be my guideline for absolute darkness of any kind.

Echoes of Eternity

Standing close to a person, place or object, the wizard taps into its temporal stream, dredging up echoes of the past.

The wizard gains a single impression of the GM's choice relating to their chosen target, and relevant to their goals. They must be very close or touching to manipulate the target's aura. The impression might be a brief vision, a fragment of speech, the last thing the victim saw, an emotion, the purpose of a machine, the function of a ruined building, a scrap of knowledge or whatever else seems appropriate. If the target is entirely unconnected to the wizard's current goals, they learn something irrelevant. If the spell is cast repeatedly, the GM determines whether any new insight is gained. A target creature does not automatically know they are being examined.

Victory of the Worm

The wizard's touch unleashes writhing temporal energies, speeding decay and ruin until the substance crumbles away.

The spell allows a wizard to inflict damage on an object as if using a weapon. Organic tissue, most metals, stones and plastics are affected by the spell; some non-reactive minerals (especially precious metals) are immune. Liquids can be broken down by the spell, but gases are largely unaffected. A few square feet of matter can be affected in a turn.

The spell can inflict damage like any Melée attack, but affects many creatures and machines immune to other forms of damage. Some remain immune because of their substance. A successful attack inflicts 1d3 Wounds (Armour avoids).

In need of fixing

Next, on reflection, I'm going to fix the stats for Call the Ashen Beast. I'm inventing a variety of spells - I don't want one that gives a lot of flexibility. Each one should be relatively specific.

Call the Ashen Beast

Dust and smoke coalesce into a grey, predatory form. The beast is an elemental that defends the wizard, obeying simple commands. When the spell ends, the beast disperses into lifeless dust.

The beast has 2 Wounds and Armour 4. It has 6 in Agility, Endurance, Perception, Stealth, and Will, and 10 in Combat and Strength. It can't understand complex commands, spy, convey messages or manipulate objects. This spell persists until the beast reaches zero Wounds, or for around an hour.

Some of the earlier spells, in defiance of my intentions, look a bit too binary. Given that Monitors was conceived specifically to think about making soft attacks appealing and balanced, this is frankly embarrassing.

Let's see if I can come up with anything.

Invocation of Primal Nightmares

Utter dread erupts in the mind of nearby creatures, their worst ancestral fears overwhelming them. Those unable to choke down their fear (Will) may freeze, flee, scream or otherwise react appropriately. They roll each following round to recover. While affected, they can still take actions the GM feels are reasonable.

This spell has Short range and is treated as a Blast. Mindless entities are unaffected by this spell. This spell persists until all targets succeed at a Will roll.

One obvious option is to extend my penalty system with a Fear Die. This would both offer a non-binary penalty system, and handle recovery rolls with an existing mechanic. The downside of this is that while I'm keen to avoid completely binary effects, I don't want spells just imposing a mechanical penalty, because that undermines the magic model I'm going for.

Invocation of Primal Nightmares

Utter dread erupts in the mind of nearby creatures, their worst ancestral fears overwhelming them. Those unable to choke down their fear (Will) gain a 1d8 Fear Die and may freeze, flee, scream or otherwise react appropriately at the GM's discretion.

This spell has Short range and is treated as a Blast. Mindless entities are unaffected by this spell. This spell persists until all targets shake off the effects.

Perhaps I could implement one of those failure thresholds I mentioned for more severe effects. And Fear Dice seems a bit specific. How many different penalty dice do I want to implement? Given how broad Blind and Slow are, perhaps a more general "distracted" condition is useful in more circumstances?

Invocation of Primal Nightmares

Utter dread erupts in the mind of nearby creatures, their worst ancestral fears overwhelming them. Those unable to choke down their fear (Will) gain a 1d8 Distracted Die. With a failed roll of 10 or less they may freeze, flee, scream, attack wildly and so on at the GM's discretion, unable to act rationally.

This spell has Short range and is treated as a Blast. Mindless entities are unaffected by this spell. This spell persists until all targets succeed at a Will roll.

The GM could of course implement that kind of effect for themselves, but including it in the spell might be a reasonable hint. Or maybe this is the kind of thing best left to suggestions in the obligatory sidebar?

Emerald Sigil of Splendour

The wizard draws a glorious symbol in lines of burning green, drawing the eyes of onlookers and transfixing their minds. Creatures able to see the symbol must roll Will each turn or stand transfixed in admiration.

This spell can be maintained by concentration. Mindless entities are unaffected by this spell.

That is decidedly not a non-binary effect. Even with the save-per-turn I am not that comfortable with it. But again, I really like the idea of creatures being literally unable to tear their eyes away. Where did I put those penalty dice?

Emerald Sigil of Splendour

The wizard draws a glorious symbol in lines of burning green, drawing the eyes of onlookers and transfixing their minds. Creatures able to see the symbol gain a d12 Distracted Die (Will resists) at the start of their turn.

The spell can be maintained by concentration for several minutes as long as the wizard remains adjacent. If the wizard moves any significant distance or breaks concentration, the sigil and its effects dissipate immediately.

Mindless or sightless entities are unaffected by this spell. Creatures afflicted with a Blind Die may use their current penalty as a modifier to their Will roll.

This version imposes a variable penalty, as well as per-turn resistance. The penalty is very heavy, but a) I want this to be an effective spell; b) it has very serious drawbacks to the wizard on top of the usual heat cost; c) it poses serious risks to the rest of the party, though PCs are likely to have higher Will scores.

I think this is an improvement, although it does seem a little complex. I don't want to simply impose a one-off penalty die because that turns this from a spell about a wizard focusing all their attention on holding off adversaries in an ongoing mental battle, to a simple mental attack spell.

What if we tried an opposed roll instead?

Emerald Sigil of Splendour

The wizard draws a glorious symbol in lines of burning green, drawing the eyes of onlookers and transfixing their minds. Creatures able to see the symbol incur a d12 Distracted Die at the start of their turn, though a successful Will vs. Occult roll allows them to overcome the symbol's allure this round. The wizard rolls their Occult once each round during their own turn, to determine how well they channel the symbol's power.

The spell can be maintained by concentration for several minutes as long as the wizard remains adjacent. If the wizard moves any significant distance or breaks concentration, the sigil and its effects dissipate immediately.

Mindless or sightless entities are unaffected by this spell. Creatures afflicted with a Blind Die may use their current penalty as a modifier to their Will roll.

This version imposes a non-binary penalty (d12) and allows an opposed roll to avoid the penalty entirely. I'm fairly happy for spells to do something automatically because of the cost of spellcasting, but seeing how many creatures this might target a roll is definitely needed. This way, both the creature's ability and the wizard's skill are relevant to their success. It also pleases me because it reflects those scenes where a trainee mage is rebuked for making slight errors in how they trace a rune or perform a gesture. Study is important, gang!

Scarlet Interdiction

The wizard traces a complex rune that flickers with red fire, flaring into agonising life if anyone is foolish enough to try and pass it.

The wizard can trace this rune on any solid surface with about a square foot of room, but not a creature. Anyone except the wizard approaching within two metres suffers a Wound unless they roll Will to resist the psychic flare of the ward. It can be disabled with an Occult roll within or just outside that range, or by damaging or altering the surface enough to disrupt the rune. Tracing the rune is usually impractical during combat.

Wounding isn't particularly useful outside a combat situation, whereas this is tailor-made for hindering pursuit or intrusion. There's no limit on the damage it can cause, and it could affect a large number of creatures without allowing Armour, with only a Will roll to resist that's likely to be fairly low. This has quite a specialised use, but it's very good at it. That sort of thing is a recipe for problems, because gamers are very good at tailoring their actions around their most effective abilities. In theory this spell balances its power (somewhat, it's rather OP anyway) by having quite restricted use; in practice gamers are likely to find ways to use it all the time because it's fairly lethal.

Scarlet Rune of Interdiction

The wizard traces a complex rune that flickers with red fire, flaring into agonising life if anyone is foolish enough to try and pass it.

The wizard can trace this rune on any solid surface with about a square foot of room, but not a creature. Anyone except the wizard approaching within two metres suffers intense pain. They incur a d4 Distraction Die, and recoil from the symbol unless they roll Endurance (include Distraction). Substantial barriers, such as walls or a vehicle's hull, will block the effect.

The rune can be disabled with an Occult roll within or just outside that range, or by damaging or altering the surface enough to disrupt the rune. The wizard can disable the rune from the same distance with no roll required. Tracing the rune is usually impractical during combat.

The spell persists until disabled, or for one hour.

I'm a bit tempted towards a scheme whereby symbol spells would use vs. Occult rolls based on how well the wizard managed to draw them. Only that would seem to set up a situation where Occult is a skill that boosts spells regularly, and I'm not sure I'm keen on that. On the other hand, having some predictable "classes" of spells might be helpful.

Incidentally, it seems both possible and entirely reasonable for wizards to inscribe a Scarlet Interdiction on an Opalescent Bulwark.

I'm inclined to have this spell cause actual damage to Hordes, but think the Horde mechanics may want revising to bring them into the Wound-based model.

General rules


Some general rules for summons, as I think of them. Exceptions are always possible.

Summoned entities can't follow complex directions. Each order given must be fairly simple and straightforward. You could, for example, say "go to the highest room in that building", but not give them a complex series of directions to reach a particular person within a building. Most have a low level of intelligence and very limited knowledge of this reality.

This rule is simply to prevent summoned creatures from being too useful. I don't want wizards instructing a summons on how to cause a reactor meltdown and then sending them into an enemy base while they watch through binoculars. Broadly speaking, I want them able to perform simple tasks without getting annoying ("what's a 'table', master?") but not do anything particularly clever.

Summoned entities don't willingly move more than 100 yards from their summoner, though they can be left behind.

Again, I don't think I want anyone summoning creatures from a hilltop and then sending them to wreak havoc on a distant town. A lot of fantasy is quite happy for wizards to despatch creatures long distances, but they don't have to worry about cheesing their games. This distance is plenty in terms of allowing for combat against ranged attackers, fighting or manipulating objects within massive halls, and so on. I'm keeping this one unless I find reason to scrap it.

I think I'm also going to need a cap on summoned creatures, otherwise some bright spark is going to stick their wizard next to a storage heater and summon a few thousand Ashen Beasts.


Elemental beings don't breathe, and ignore attacks against Mask.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Special Collections: On Neanderthal Survival

I've just stuck up the first of (possibly) a sporadic series on my YSDC blog, discussing some slightly unusual tomes. This one deals with offprints - reproductions of a single article or chapter from a larger volume. You can read it here.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Monitors blackjack

At (inevitably) Dan's suggestion, I am looking at switching Monitors over to a d20 'blackjack' model. For those of you who, like me, have no idea what the hell that is, it sounds more complicated than it is to do. See below.

Doing Stuff

Our new trial mechanic for Doing Stuff is:

  • You have an Attribute typically from 0-20, although it can be higher
  • Roll d20
  • Apply difficulty modifiers for particularly easy or difficult tasks. Assume "moderately difficult" is the baseline - this is judged independently of the character's skill to avoid ability compounding spirals.
  • Apply situational modifiers if conditions or equipment affect your chances of success.
  • Apply any personal modifiers from character traits and background, such as experience in the police aiding you on attempts to deal with police bureaucracy.
  • A score =< the Attribute is a success.
  • Scores higher than a particular threshold (probably 10 or 15) that still succeed may be unusually effective.
  • Scores lower than a particular threshold that fail may be unusually ineffective.

I haven't outlined very many modifiers, and mostly left these up to GM discretion. Crunchiness: relatively low.

There are 16 Attributes at present. Three of these are (let's be honest) largely passive and used for defence. I am somewhat uncomfortable with having two distinct categories of Attribute like this, but I may be over-sensitive.

Characters can take two actions per round.

It's nice to have some kind of degrees of success thing built in for reference, if nothing else. Also players do tend to enjoy them. As the old half-score model doesn't work with blackjack rolling, I've included thresholds with a definite caveat. I'm not sure if I want to incorporate this mechanically or simply leave it as a GM reference tool. It's not necessarily clear how to offer "more success" on a good result, and this applies particularly to attack rolls given the low-wound model I'm using. Increased Penetration was briefly considered, but I felt this would devalue it as a weapon property. It would tend to lead to high-Ballistics characters being mechanically pushed towards low-Pen, high-Strength weapons, as they'd gain more benefit from their skill than with high-Pen weapons.

An advantage of the threshold system outlined above is that it avoids the old "all hits are criticals" problem. Using a fixed critical roll (20 on a d20, etc.) can end up with an odd situation where the more difficult a task is, the more likely it is that a success will be breathtakingly good. If you need a 19+ to hit, half your successes will be critical. If you need a 2+, only one in 19 will be. It can just seem a bit odd. Here, the success you're capable of getting depends on your skill; a low skill character might pull off a surprise success, but that'll be narration rather than mechanics. Only a really skilled character can pull off exceptional stunts. I... think this is a good thing.

I could, of course, use "more than half your skill" but that's getting mathsy. I could also use a crit confirmation rule, so a 1 is a potential critical but you need a second success to confirm it; fine, but extra rolls.

Combat and injury

Combat involves an Attribute roll to attack, followed by an Armour roll from the target to avoid damage. Armour can be ignored by weapons with high Penetration.

Weapon effects are categorised as Hard or Soft. Hard effects inflict serious pain or actual damage to a target. Soft effects impede a target in more specific ways. A particular weapon may have Hard effects on one target type and Soft effects on another.

Hard effects inflict Wounds, usually 1. Wound pools are typically 1-5, with most enemies in the lower end of the spectrum. There are penalties for mildly and severely wounded creatures. Vehicles and other non-living entities use a similar model with Wounds representing general integrity or particular components.

Soft effects inflict a Penalty Die sized 1d4 to 1d12. This is rolled at the start of the character's turn. On a 1, the penalty has elapsed as the effects wear off (not possible on the first turn). Otherwise, whenever the effect would plausibly hamper an activity, die rolls that do not exceed the Penalty Die fail regardless of Attribute scores. The Soft effects I intend to implement are Blind (impaired senses) and Slow (reduced reaction, movement speed and/or coordination).

I still need to decide whether this comparison happens with or without modifiers. Allowing modifiers (which will often be positive) would probably make things easier for the PCs, who are more likely to look for and exploit bonuses than NPCs.

A character with particular levels of injury may acquire a Wound-based Penalty Die, typically 1d4 when moderately injured and 1d6 when badly injured. These behave in the same way as Blind and Slow dice but apply to all die rolls. Wound Dice are also not discarded when a 1 is rolled.

Lingering effects can be incurred through serious injury, including being taken out of action in combat, failing badly at dangerous activities or doing something innately harmful. These last for a number of Ticks, which elapse when either in-game downtime has occurred, or at the end of a "scene".

Opposed rolls

Opposed rolls are handled through a roll-off. The highest success wins. Disparities of 5, 10 and so on between scores may indicate particularly spectacular triumphs.

If neither party succeeds or there is a draw, the group must determine whether mutual failure or a draw make any sense in the contest. In many cases one or other party must come out on top: either you wrestle free of the tangleslime's tendrils or you don't. In these cases, roll until an acceptable result comes up (or, in the case of a draw, flip a coin).

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Numenera: the Beale of Boregal, part five

This recording comes mostly from a laptop mic, and so the audio quality is dubious. I recommend listening on speakers rather than headphones if possible. Many apologies.

Here begin the spoilers for the starter scenario The Beale of Boregal, and as always be aware that our podcasts are not entirely family-friendly.

Ghost in the Machine

Link to episode 05

Despite Arthur's efforts, the move from the early scenario to this concluding chapter feels a bit disjointed to me. I'm not entirely sure why - the hints about where to go next aren't any more tenuous than in many another game. I think part of it is my setting issues again, or perhaps more accurately, issues with how I'm perceiving different parts of the setting. In my head, the first section is that sort of generic fantasy period where you have wandering adventurers but also relatively egalitarian societies and no sumptuary laws or universal serfdom; the middle section I pictured as being in a Heyeresque setting, basically Regency Bath with more mutants and metal face piercings; and this part appears to be set in a kind of Wild West frontier town run by a council of necromancers. I had a certain amount of trouble reconciling these as being with a couple of days' travel.

That aside I quite enjoyed this section, despite it not really offering you much freedom of approach. We got to do some stuff that wasn't just fighting things, and Arthur took some very sensible decisions about the final encounter, including switching out the dialogue for something that felt more natural (and Arthurlike), and nixing the boss fight they seem keen to include. As written, this is asking for TPK.

Let me expand on that a bit. Boregal is a Level 5 enemy with 20 Health and - importantly - Armour 2. Basically, he builds himself a body out of random junk lying around and then goes to town on you. As I've mentioned before, small numbers are significant in this system, and that Armour 2 makes Boregal entirely immune to attacks from anyone with a Light weapon; in this case, the Nano and Jack both. Barring a roll of 17+ there was no way we could have injured him, leaving the job to Dan's Glaive. She would have been doing typically 5 damage per hit after Armour, so four successful attack rolls needed at a base chance of 1/4 (Level 5 means 15 to hit), although she could have knocked that down a bit a few times with Effort. But frankly she would probably not have had the chance. Boregal has two main attacks, both psychic. One will target a single PC, causing 6 points of Intellect damage and negating their next turn; this would have taken a 15 to resist, and Glaives ain't good at Intellect stuff, so there are good odds of Boregal stopping her attacking on several turns while also inflicting damage. With a small Intellect pool, two hits would be enough to Impair her, reducing her chance of critical hits and making Effort more costly. Two more hits would probably cripple her. There's really no reason to attack anyone else, as Boregal's effectively immune to their damage, but if he wanted to he has an attack that damages everyone for 6 Intellect. Basically, all he needs to do is spam the stun attack until the Glaive drops and then fry everyone else.

As if that weren't enough, there's a suggested GM intrusion: psychically take control of a character and have her fight her friends for two rounds. That's all you need, really.

I have to assume that nobody is actually running this encounter as written, because it's completely psychotic as far as I can see.

The town as written is a little more interesting that we found out in this adventure. With time short and after a few distractions, we sort of wanted to finish off this one-shot, and so we missed out on really finding out any details of the town. That being said, the adventure introduction is frustratingly opaque; it feels like it's almost telling you stuff but then veering off at the last minute leaving only hints. Quite what is supposed to have happened I can't make out despite reading the whole thing.