Monthly Archives: July 2013

Class Based Ability Scores

A few newer games that use base ability scores are using a mechanic where your race and/or your class actually adjust your randomly generated/point-bought ability scores.  Races have traditionally played this role, but for some reason, classes haven’t.  

So, when thinking about different races, it’s easy classical to define that race by what makes them different than being human – and that almost always tends to relate to the core ability scores.  They’re like a human, but stronger, or like a human but wiser.  A race is something you are – and your ability scores are often the primary vehicle for enumerating “what you are.”

Classes, on the other hand, have traditionally been about what you do.  So your class defines the abilities you gain as you advance in experience and training.  I think because of this dichotomy, classes haven’t traditionally been tapped with the duty of adjusting starting ability scores.

Still, I think I like this new direction.  If you close your eyes and think about a fighter, or a thief, or a wizard, you’re probably not just envisioning a set of skills, you’re likely also thinking about a strong, a quick, or a smart hero.  From a play balance and design perspective, it recognizes that if I pick a fighter, I probably want to play a strong character.  Since we know up front in the design that strength is probably a pretty important characteristic for a fighter, it’s nice to help make sure new fighters aren’t too gimped from the get-go and help give the player what they’re envisioning when they decided to play that type of character.

Another nice thing this can do is help represent the years of training that went on before a character became a first level thief.  When you start thinking about multi-classing, and a character with 8 years of apprenticeship in the local thieves guild starts dabbling in magic, why would they be just as good at each.  That extra bit of ability score for your first level class can help, if only a bit, differentiate your first class with all that background from any class switches over time.

So, I think I’ll probably give each class a bonus point to a statistic that’s primary to that class.  That ability will either be chosen for you, or I’ll give the player a choice between two (like Strength OR Vitality) for a Barbarian.

Frustration

It’s a Monday.  I’ve hit a point where I’m not quite sure how to continue with Lost Worlds.  I may take a break from this whole thing for awhile and come back to it with some fresh thoughts.  I may play in Andy’s game for awhile and review how I feel about the game from a player perspective rather than a GM perspective.

Barring some flash of insight (no, I’m not about to crit you with a cyclops Brian), I have two choices: wait and think more on my core mechanic, or design the game using the core mechanic I have and borrowing heavily from familiar systems.  I’m not sure which route I want to go.

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Some day you are going to die

For those of you who have lost a character or four, courtesy of -C on his blog Hack & Slash.

There will be a pain, or you will feel strange or dizzy and find yourself looking up at the ceiling. Or a wound or accident will occur, your awareness causing a sinking feeling as you realize the outcome.

What this means is that what we choose to do with our time is important. The characters you roll up in a simple moment for your D&D game are different from any other character created, because for a short while they exist.

Death, character death, and the possibility of it is what makes gaming matter. If there is no threat of failure, then the activity carries no risk. With no risk it can still be a fun activity, but it loses value. If we take on the arch-dracolich and know we are going to win, then we hung out and rolled some dice with friends for a few hours to come to a known conclusion.

If we did it and we know we can lose, a real meaningful thing happened.

When the life we led flashes before our eyes what I want to see are the things that I accomplished that might not have been. You can’t have that without failure, without character death.

So the next time a player complains about character death, validate their feelings. “Yes, that is very frustrating.” Let them roll up a new character. They will learn to play more intelligently. And when they accomplish something, determined not to be killed this time, it will have real meaning. Because their accomplishment might not have happened.

And that will be a session to remember.

The Three Pillars

D&D Next has posited that the Fantasy RPG Genre is built on three main pillars: Combat, Roleplaying, & Exploration.

Over the course of the last year, we’ve distilled the essential experiences of D&D down into three general categories: exploration, roleplaying, and combat. We believe these form the three main pillars of gameplay in D&D, and, while broad, they can help guide our design.

A part of the design philosophy going forward is that each of those three elements contains some very specific things that contribute to the game and culture that is Dungeons & Dragons. However, we also know that individual DMs, players, and gaming groups might favor one of those elements over another; of course, sometimes they might favor one element over the others in one session, and then completely reverse that preference in the next. The goal, then, is to support all three of those elements in the design of the game in such a way that the individual gaming group can choose its focus and have a satisfying game experience. This doesn’t mean we necessarily need the same amount of game mechanics supporting each; obviously, combat has tended more toward detail and more rules support, and that may well be true going forward, but we also want to make sure we’re paying a similar amount of attention to the other two experiences.

This philosophy is something we want to extend beyond just character design; it should affect adventure design, monster design, setting design, and every other aspect of the game. Our goal is to make it so that you make choices for your character that speak to your preferred play style, and that it’s OK to do so even if other members of your party make choices pointing toward a different play style. Adventuring demands a certain amount of competence in all three areas of the game, but when you customize your character you might push yourself more in one direction or another.

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Trading Time for Risk

Risk and Reward - Words on Dice

I’ve always struggled a little bit with how to handle the game when players decide to “thoroughly” search rooms (such as “taking 20” in d20 systems), or take extra extended rests, etc.  While there’s times and places for these decisions, often a hostile dungeon isn’t one of them.  There are some competing forces here, and I want to try and enumerate and understand them so that I can have a better idea of what the system itself can control, and what the GM must control with conflict timelines.

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Elegance

English: Six dice of various colours. 4-sided ...

Zak has a post praising the elegance of Basic Role Playing‘s d20 system as implemented in the Pendragon RPG.  I think it’s fascinating to see what people have to say in the comments.  Zak is right when he talks about the system being elegant from a simplicity standpoint.   If you’re too lazy to RTFA, here’s a summary.  Your skills are rated on a scale of 1-20 (or whatever die you’re using for the core mechanic).  You attempt to roll under your skill to succeed at a check.  Opposed checks try rolling as high as possible, while still rolling under your skill.  While the comments are all over the place, most of my objections to the system are covered in some way:

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