Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Vancian Magic and some Old School D&D

I'm a fan of "Vancian" casting. In my rationalization for it, the wizard creates magical "constructs" that exist only in a metamagical plane. The wizard carries these around with him and essentially throws them at the enemy like a grenade. If the wizard has a focus object, that object tethers the constructs. The casting ritual is the way to bring these constructs forth from the void and into reality. Metamagic Feats (as in 3e) involve the caster deriving new "designs" for these constructs, scrolls bind the constructs to paper with special inks, etc. Cantrips are spells so simple to construct that you can make them and release them in almost a single gesture (or word). Spell limits represent the wizard's ability to "multitask" and keep track of these constructs. When you sleep, your spells can "wander off", so it's best to dismantle them. If you go unconscious, you can probably keep your spells; I have the wizard make concentration checks for each spell left.

Sorcerers in this model can perceive the metamagic realm, and therefore can make whatever constructs they understand. There is still a limit on their stamina, though I'm coming around to the idea that it's more of a personally set limit, and the sorcerer realizes that to push beyond that limit most likely means losing control.

That's all fine and dandy for 3e or Pathfinder, but what about Old School D&D versions, like AD&D or my current brainworm, Swords and Wizardry?

S&W is a relatively faithful clone of the Original D&D (OD&D), which I never played. I started with Basic and then Advanced, which were a bit more detailed. S&W, like many old school games, doesn't really lay out a lot of rules. For example, though it says a Wizard can prepare X spells "per day", it does not define how long it takes to prepare them, how long you need to rest, or what happens if you go unconscious. Given the brutality of old school games, I have little doubt that an unconscious wizard should lose their spells, but that's a DM's judgement call.

So, since it's the DM's call, here are some ideas I'm thinking about for spell preparation in S&W:

First, it takes (Spell Level) divided by (Caster Level) hours to prepare each spell, plus one turn to set up/take down your preparation materials.

Second, each hour of rest will reset one spell level of slots. One hour resets your 1st level slots, 2 hours resets 1st and 2nd level, etc.

In other words, a 1st level wizard can re-prepare his spell after a 1 hour lunch, but it will take him an extra hour to do so. A second level wizard still only takes 1 hour to reset his 1st level slots, and can prepare twice as many spells per hour.

The upshot of this is that low level wizards can often have two "15 minute work days", and high level wizards may not bother preparing low level spells, since if the need arises, they can prepare such spells in a turn or two. A smart high level wizard will leave a slot or two empty so if, for example, the party really needs that Knock spell, he can spend some time preparing it.

Of course if the wizard is high level enough, he will prepare scrolls for these contingencies.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Player Character Cost of Living

All RPGs have ways of separating players from their hard-looted (or maybe even earned) money. Of course, there are equipment expenses, which make up the majority of expenses. Then, sometimes, players need to hire specialists (sages, transportation) or bribe someone in a position of power.

But everyone needs to eat and sleep. In most games I've been in, the GM will charge for a room and meal at the inn, but since the characters rarely spend more than a few days in any one town, and nobody ever seems to buy more clothing :), the idea of a monthly cost of living usually doesn't come into play.

However, many games have rules for such expenses.

In Traveller, it's your Social Standing stat times 100Cr per month, and if you don't spend it routinely, your Social Standing suffers. Players with ships generally also have a ship payment and maintenance costs, but that is offset by their ability to earn money with their ship in many cases.

AD&D (1st ed) had a cost of 100gp per level per month, to be charged automatically by the DM. The stated goal of this rule is to make sure players burn through money, just like the Traveller rule.

Pathfinder has expenses too, but they're not by level, they're by how "high" you want to live. In practice, it means 100gp per month to "live large" - much less expensive than OD&D. Perhaps this rule has changed because of the split between gp and xp, and expected character wealth? I'm not sure, but it certainly is a shift in the way the game works.

In D&D 4e, I couldn't find any equivalent rules, but I'll admit I'm not as familiar with the rules layout and may simply have missed it. I guess it fits the more adventure-centric focus of 4e, though it's possible they just moved those rules to a "Dungeon Mastery" expansion. <shrug>

Games like Mekton, BESM and other light systems don't concern themselves too much with bean counting, preferring to abstract those ideas into the character's background.

So, any thoughts? Traveller and OD&D charge you a lot to cover the various expenses of your Social Standing or Level's equipment and entertainment requirements. Is it even reasonable to port that sort of thing into Pathfinder, or will it skew the "wealth by level" mechanism too much?

I found my D&D 3.5 books, and found that their is a variant rule for cost of living (instead of bean-counting), but it's the same rule Pathfinder adopted - a fixed price for how large you want to live, with 100gp being "pretty large" and 200gp being "like a king". This is still well short of AD&D's "100gp per level" though.

Monday, January 14, 2013

What sort of player are you?

From this quiz,

You Scored as Character Player
The Character Player enjoys creating in-depth characters with distinct and rich personalities. He identifies closely with his characters, feeling detached from the game if he doesn't. He takes creative pride in exploring different characters, often making each new one radically different than others he's played. The Character Player bases his decisions on his character's psychology first and foremost. He may view rules as a necessary evil at best, preferring sessions in which the dice never come out of their bags. For the Character Player, the greatest reward comes from experiencing the game from the emotional perspective of an interesting character.
Character Player
Weekend Warrior
Casual Gamer
Power Gamer

It came down to a tie-breaker question in the end. I have to say it seems accurate enough, though my Weekend Warrior desires to just kill some stuff do temper my Character Player tendencies.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My Top RPGs from 2012

Taking up a meme from Bravo Zulu, I'm listing my top played (and even just fooled around with) RPGs of 2012.
  1. Dungeons and Dragons, 4th EditionThis is the game system we use in the in-office RPG group, and it's probably the game I play the most. While I'm not entirely enamored with the 4e system, it definitely works, and the "at-will/encounter/daily" system is easy enough to handle. The on-line character builder, though not free, is quite simple to use, and you certainly can't claim Wizards doesn't support their players. I'm on the D&DNext playtest list, and what I see is intriguing. It will be interesting to see how that develops, and if it will cause me to abandon both 4e and Pathfinder. Maybe.
  2. PathfinderI use Pathfinder in my home campaign, and it's the game I probably spend the most time being involved with. Though I was never a huge fan of D&D 3e, which seemed too much like a game for professional roleplayers and not a game for just having some adventures, Pathfinder feels good to me. I realize my acceptance of Pathfinder was probably made easier by the fact that I'd been playing 4e for a while when I got it. That's an easier transition than from AD&D 2e to D&D 3e. I do have to admit though, I'm still drawn to more old-school D&Ds, like Swords and Wizardry. Maybe I'll give that game a proper shake in the future.
  3. Classic TravellerI actually had the good fortune to be able to run a CT game with some friends - that's the "Death Station entries I've made here. CT holds a special place in my heart, since (alongside AD&D 1e), that's what I grew up playing. The game is brutally minimalistic in some ways (combat sequence), and equally hyper-detailed in others (weapon and armor data), but with a little preparation work (which would be helped by a decent character sheet design - hmm, a topic for another entry...) and a group willing to abandon or handwave through the more precise grid-based combat systems of D&D, you can have a fast-paced adventure that matches up pretty well with harder SciFi movies for tone.
  4. Mongoose Traveller
    The first of the "RPGs I didn't play, but still spent a non-trivial amount of time playing with" in this list, MgT is very much like CT on the surface, and has the advantage of having a huge library of stuff to buy for it and easy conversions for the older material. Some of the new stuff is awesome, some not so much, but Mongoose has done a respectable job trying to make a Traveller experience for today's gamers that mirrors what we had back in the day. Not all improvements are for the better IMHO, specifically the "Level 0" skill concept. This idea looks great on paper, and matches well with how people view skills these days ("your skill list is your playbook"), but Traveller has classically been more of a "skills are what you put on your resume, but you can try anything" system. That's what the Education stat was for. But I digress.
  5. Mekton II and to a lesser extent, Mekton Zeta
    I love mecha anime. I used to be a inveterate BattleTech player, and though I flirted with Heavy Gear back when it first came out, I hadn't found an RPG/Combat system that felt right to me until I recently discovered Mekton II. (I bought Zeta a few years ago, but I suppose it was a "D&D 3e" thing - it just didn't capture my attention at the time.) I watch Robotech (and Starblazers) with the kids, and when they're a little older, we'll pick up some less "America Friendly" series. Mekton is almost a direct fit for Robotech or Gundam gaming, and the Interlok game system looks like a strange fusion between D20 (with its flat probability curves) and Traveller (with its skill focus, random character "life path" and more crunchy rules), though of course it predates D20, so I don't mean that comparison literally. Mekton brings in a lot of Anime tropes. My son and I worked up many of the Robotech characters (including MinMei) with very little trouble. With the right group, this game would be a blast. I'm not sure I have the right group though.
  6. Traveller D20 (T20)
    Having said all that, D20 has to my mind a better "skills" system than MgT, and T20 has done some clever things adapting D20 to a harder SciFi setting. My at-home crew is more accepting of a game that has very strong ties to the game they're already familiar with (Pathfinder), and given that I have more recent experience GM-ing D20 games, I suspect that T20 is going to get a lot more play.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A few more randomly generated Traveller characters

These are Classic Traveller characters. Again, sorry for the inconsistent write-up style. I don't have a good system for doing this yet, so it's more or less catch-as-catch-can.

Army Major Eli Khabr  778B86  Age 30 
Skills: SMG-2, Tactics-2, ATV-1, Rifle-1, Mechanical-1, Blade Cbt-1
Possessions: High Passage, SMG
Finances: 12,000 CrImp

Eli was very bright but poor farmer from a Low Tech Agricultural world who dreamed of finding a way to "the capital" to learn about technology and machinery.  He applied to the Army, as it was known locally that a career in the Army was a good way to learn a lot of good skills.

His first term, his obvious intelligence and enthusiasm gained him a commission and a minor field command, where he learned a lot about fighting.  He also found himself assigned to a mechanized brigade, where he learned basic vehicle maintenance.
[Term 1: Lieutenant, Rifle-1, SMG-1, Blade Cbt-1, Tactics-1, Mechanical-1]

In his second term, he was promoted to captain and put in command of one of his brigade's recon platoons. His officer training gave him additional education in subjects his farm-hand upbringing had neglected as he learned the ins and outs of AFV operation in the field.
[Term 2: Captain, ATV-1, Edu+1]

His third term saw him promoted to Major, where he learned more tactics and, due to some border disputes, gained additional skill with his SMG.
[Term 3: Major, Tactics, Gun Cbt(SMG)]

Eli's superiors were shocked when, at what looked like the height of his career, he decided not to re-enlist. What they did not know is that Eli had been forced to cross a line during his last assignment, and he could no longer serve his government as a soldier in good conscience. Disillusioned and unsure what his future had in store for a man with his talents, Eli took to the stars, hoping to find a new life on any planet but his homeworld.

Army Lieutenant, Merchant 3rd Officer Rezik Farjani A69AB6 Age 26
Skills: SMG-2, Mechanical-2, Rifle-1, Leader-1, Computer-1, Admin-1, Streetwise-1, Vacc Suit-1
Possessions: Gun (SMG)
Finances: 50,000 Cr

Rezik was a strong, clever and well educated kid from a backwater world out on the frontier.  Seeing no future in his local scene, he joined the Army, a move that proved to be very beneficial to him.  His superiors quickly noticed his abilities, granting him both a commission and a promotion in his first term of duty.  While his personal interest was in weapons qualifications, his post taught him much about leadership and computer operations.

However, his brilliant career was cut short after only one term by a classic Army SNAFU, and he wound up joining a Tukera Lines merchant ship's crew as an officer. As a 3rd Officer, Rezik learned much about Admin and Streetwise, as well as how to operate a vacc suit. But the life of a Merchant was not for him, and at the age of 26, he set out into the stars to seek his fortune, where ever that may be.

[Rezig has a Psy potential of 7 at this point, and would probably benefit from seeking some training]

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A T20 game on the horizon for me?

My at-home RPG group (really just my wife and kids) has expressed an interest in doing a short T20 campaign once we hit a break point in our current Pathfinder campaign. For some reason, I've had very little luck getting any traction at home for either CT or MgT flavors of Traveller, but at least two of the three are actively willing to try out T20. (That's not entirely fair - my wife enjoys the MgT character generation sequence.)

So now, not only do I need to make a few T20 characters (who I will post here, of course) to make sure I understand the chargen procedure, but I also need to pick a campaign setting. My players would rather have a mission than an opportunity, if you know what I mean. So a charted space sandbox (the default Traveller campaign) is probably not the best plan.

At the moment, I have two top contenders:

First up, we have The Kursis Charter from the Linkworlds Cluster campaign setting, released as a freebee when T20 was first published. The players' ship, badly in need of refitting (aren't they always?) is given a charter to do a mail run through the Linkworlds cluster. The usual mail ship has skipped, and mail is starting to pile up. As long as they follow their appointed route and leave enough room for the mail (a few tons per world), they're free to engage in other lucrative opportunities as they present themselves. Along they way, they find a trail of clues to one such opportunity. Needless to say, not everyone on the mail route is going to be cooperative, nor are the clues going to be easy to follow up on.

Second is "Epic Adventure 5, Scout Cruiser", also by QLI for the T20 system. In this one, the players sign on with a scout crew in a rather large Scout Cruiser (1000 tons - 5x the size of the usual tramp merchant ship - and a crew of 21 instead of 3-5.), which is going on a deep-space mission into a stellar rift to discover the fate of another delinquent scout cruiser.

So the Kursis Charter has uplifted bears, strange alien life forms, daring rescues and fetch quests. EA5 has a mystery and hostile forces, along with some grim situations. I think the answer, especially given the group I'm playing with, is clear.

In to the Link Worlds we go.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Traveller T20

My son, who knows all too well of my affections for things Traveller, bought me a copy of QuikLink Interactive's "Traveller T20", which is a D20 Modern take on Traveller. While T20 itself is out of production due to an expired Traveller license, the game engine lives on in SciFi20.

Others have reviewed the game in detail, so I won't review the product. Instead, I'm going to point out some things that interested me in the first partial read through.

I'm familiar with D20, especially in its 3.5/Pathfinder incarnation, though I'm not what you would call a professional D20 player, so a lot of power building special interactions are probably lost on me.

Having said that, I think they way T20 handles certain skills and feats is very clever. The best example is Piloting, which is a skill. You can rank up your piloting skill as a general stat, but in order to actually pilot something, you need to take a Feat, such as "Spacecraft" or "Aircraft". So you can have your insanely great spaceship pilot who has no idea how to fly a helicopter, but can pick it up pretty easily (on a level up) and still be a great pilot. This meshes nicely with Base Attack Bonus and the various Weapons feats.

Combat is pretty standard D20 (d20+bonus against AC, roll damage if you hit) but T20 separates your "hit points" into "Stamina" (which are equal to D20 hitpoints) and "Lifeblood" (which is your Constitution score). Any time you take damage, it comes off your Stamina, and at zero Stamina, you're out cold. In addition, any damage you take comes off your Lifeblood, but only AFTER armor has had a chance to stop it. Armor is very important in T20. It not only increases your AC, but it reduces damage to Lifeblood, keeping you alive longer. The way the AR rules work is a bit convoluted, but probably not too hard to handle in practice - each point of AR removes the lowest rolled dice of damage until there is only one dice left. Then, any remaining AR removes points of damage. So a 2d10 attack (3, 8) against an AR 5 armor would first cancel the 3 with one point of AR, then use the remaining 4 AR to reduce the 8 to a 4. So in the end, you'd take 11 Stamina and 4 Lifeblood from that hit. Two other points: nonlethal damage just comes off of stamina, and once you're out cold, additional damage goes straight to Lifeblood, bypassing any armor.

I also like the approach they've taken to building space ships. The math works out to be very much like Classic Traveller in the end, but the approach is totally different. Each hull size requires a number of "units" to power it. Say for example, a 100 ton ship needs two power plant units installed, two maneuver drive modules, etc. Each module is rated for performance. So if you want 4G acceleration, you'd need to buy two 4G gravitic maneuver modules, and a powerful enough power plant to run them. This opens up a lot of RP chrome. "That last hit took out your #3 maneuver drive." instead of "Your m-drive just dropped from a D to a C rating," which is how it would have worked under Classic Traveller.

In addition, you now can choose your avionics, sensors and computer separately, and they all require a certain level of power and control rating (provided by the power plant and computer, respectively). Again, more detail than CT, and in a way that would help bring the setting to life during play.

Character creation has an interesting concept. Traveller characters do not classically start of as 18 year old newbies, they are for the most part ex-service personnel who are already skilled. But D20 games have levels and XP. How do you reconcile those two things? Well, T20 allows you to have a prior career in which you gain a somewhat random amount of XP which you can use to level up your character. The skills and feats available to you depend on the career you have chosen, and it's possible at higher levels that you will not get enough XP to level up during a term.

Another character building rule T20 has added is the idea that your homeworld's statistics grant you certain skills and feats. CT does not care about your homeworld, and Mongoose Traveller handles things with their "level 0 skill" system, which I don't really care for, since it implies that all skills are trained-only skills. D20 in general and T20 in specific of course allow untrained use of certain skills for anyone.

Any way, since pretty much everyone I play RPGs with is familiar with D20 rules to some extent, I may wind up switching to T20, even though CT still holds a special place in my heart. Fortunately, T20 went through some trouble to remain compatible with CT adventures and such, so it doesn't have to be just one or the other.

That's enough rambling for now.