Sunday, February 11, 2018

What If You Did Vancian Magic Like Tetris...

So I was reading an older post over at the Points of Light blog entitled D&D Doesn't Use Vancian Magic.  David's point is that although the magic system in D&D is often called "Vancian", it isn't actually an accurate simulation of how magic use is described in Vance's books, the Dying Earth novels in particular.  David provides this quote from Vance's work:

Maziriam made a selection from his books and with great effort forced five spells upon his brain: Phandaal's Gyrator, Felojun's Second Hypnotic Spell, The Excellent Prismatic Spray, The Charm of Untiring Nourishment, and the Spell of the Omnipotent Sphere. This accomplished, Maziriam drank wine and retired to his couch.

So, yes, the mage does go through his spell books and load spells into his brain. But there are not spell slots, or specified numbers of spells of particular levels--although the mages in Vance's books do seem to have a limit of how much spell power their brains can handle.

Therefore to make D&D magic more Vancian you would need to retain the spell books and spell prep time, but remove the spell slot grid where at any given level you may only memorize X number of spells of each level.  But this being a game you still want to have a way to limit the numbers/levels of spells which a mage with a given Intelligence and casting level can have mentally prepared at any given time.

And then I thought of giving each magic-using class a sheet with a grid and tiles of different shapes for the spells.  Larger spells would have larger tiles, thus taking up more space on the grid.  As long as there's room left on the grid to fit in a particular spell you can memorize it and place the tile.  That brought to mind the old game Tetris, where you have to fit tiles of different shapes (made of connected squares) into a rectangular space.  So what if the spell-tiles were not just larger, but also of more complex shapes (but probably still an assembly of squares) as the spell level increased?

That started sounding cool, until I realized that making up a set of spell tiles would be work, especially if you wanted more complex shapes.  And then I remembered those puzzles where you place geometric shapes (triangles, squares, and parallelograms) to make shapes or fill in a square: tangrams.  I think the easiest gaming aid would use magnetic pieces and a metal board.  The board would be big enough to handle your game's maximum spell-slot capacity.  I'd also want a quick reference guide printed on the back for each spell casting class showing the capacity area and how many of each geometric shape the character gets at each casting level.

Monday, January 22, 2018

So, I'm Modding This Kickstarter (sort of)

Once again my Google+ feeds came through for me.  I saw a link to the CharacTable Kickstarter for these really nice wooden lap boards with slots and bins and docking for all your stuff, particularly if you don't sit at a table during play.  I love the idea and they really look sharp.  However, the larger models (there are four) are designed with upright docking for a slim tablet.  Alas, my primary GMing tool at the table is a chunky old notebook which can't possibly use the dock.

So, I decided to seize the excuse opportunity to do something crafty and make my own custom lap board out of posterboard, based around accommodation for my chunky notebook.  In addition to a pit for the notebook, I wanted 1) a pit for my mobile phone, because I have a stylus and use a note-taking app for "scratch paper" during play, 2) a slot for pens, stylus, etc, and 3) a dice rolling pit.  I usually line up my dice pool in the hinge of the notebook (as shown) to save space on the table, so I won't need to include a separate space for them here.  I laid out the items on a big pad of graph paper and drew around them.  The notebook needed an open space on the left for the fan port and a long slot down the right for the power cord.  For the phone and pen slots I left finger openings on the edges to make it easier to lift them out. 

Here's my mock-up layout on the graph paper.  I plan to make the outer edges and interior walls 0.5" (12.5mm) thick to account for the strength of the posterboard, both during construction and in regular use.

Tomorrow I'll stop at the art store and get some poster board!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Forest of Fiends: The Old Gods & Their Weirdings

[Here's another bit of setting lore for my Forest of Fiends campaign, with actual effects on play.]

Before the hex-priests bound the empire to the Maralith Queens, the land of Pra-Kryush had its own pantheon of local deities.  With the rise of the Queens their worship was suppressed, the priests broken or sacrificed, and the temples demolished.  Today, little remains of their faith and even the oldest amongst the tiefling elders remembers naught but odd references.  Nevertheless, the Old Gods are not dead.  Without mortal worshippers to sustain them they are so faded now as to be little more than wandering wisps.  Most are like dotards with fading memories of their former glory, some even forgetting their own names.  Some still cling to an abandoned shrine, idol, stele, cenote, or other lonely site in the jungle.  In that locale, referred to as a shrine manse,  they have some small power left.

Outside of these shrine manses, there are still many remnants about, such as building stones scavenged from their razed temples with some carvings left undefiled.  Here and there are troves of holy items stashed by faithful priests to keep them from destruction by the minions of the Queens.  A few of the greatest and oldest temples were so steeped in holiness that no corrupted being could enter, and so they were sealed by the demon-minions and forsaken.

The names of the Old Gods are long-forgotten, even to the gods themselves, for they have gone senile.  A person contacting one will experience strange visions appropriate to the deity's domains.  If the person tries to resist the visions, they must make a WILL save (DC 25) against each of the deity's three domains.  If they embrace the visions, or fail a WILL save against any, they will gain a "Weirding" (containing a boon and a curse) for each.

When each manse is contacted, the GM will secretly make three random rolls on the domain list for the forgotten deity's three domains.  The player of an affected character will then roll 1d6 (1-2/3-4/5-6) to see which of the three affects them.  The GM will note which weirding the character gains and reveal the effects when appropriate.

There are twelve domains on the list.  To keep things fun for the players, I'll just reveal one domain "weirding" as an example:

Domain: Animal
Wierding: you can speak with wild animals (boon); but domesticated animals panic near you (curse)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Forest of Fiends: The Homesteaders

As I continue hammering out ideas for my Forest of Fiends campaign, I'm getting to areas which I don't want the players to see or it will totally spoil the surprise.  One area which will be public knowledge (mostly) is that of the "homesteaders".  After the peoples of the Holy Realms overthrew the demonic empire of Pra-Kryush and drove their orc and drow allies back into the wilderness and the Everdark, there were a lot of undesirables left behind.  Many were executed, with or without a proper trial, but significant numbers remain.  These undesirables included half-orcs, half-drow, suspected heretics, sorcerers, shapechangers, and so on.

As the victors began to relax after cleansing their homelands, the priests of Lawgiver Tyr ruled that these undesireables could not be held culpable for the sins of the empire and brought an end to the executions.  However, they were still not considered entirely trustworthy.  It was clear they carried some measure of taint from the dark times.  Some of the undesirables took advantage of the lull in the violence to flee to wild and desolate places or risk living in disguise.  The rest were put under some form of supervision, such as apprentices to guilds or lay brothers in monasteries.  As long as they remained well-behaved, devout, and submitted to their new place they were tolerated.

When the continental homeland of Pra-Kryush was officially re-opened for the crusade, most of the rulers of the Holy Realms saw an opportunity to be rid of all manner of persons.  At first there were open calls for volunteers to fight, build, explore, and colonize in the new lands.  But soon roundups of the undesirables began.  Half-orcs, half-drow (half-elves), kitsune, gnomes, sorcerors, convicts, vagabonds, and beggars were given the "opportunity" to become homesteaders across the seas.  Those with money and possessions were allowed make reasonable preparations.  The penniless ones, who were the majority by far, were supplied with a few basic items and handful of coin out of charity.

So as far as the campaign is concerned, there will be affects both on the overall setting and on character creation.  Any characters of the half-orc, half-elf, or gnome race or of the sorceror class (I'm working on the assumption we'll be using the Pathfinder core classes only) must begin either as a "homesteader" or with their secret disguised.  Also, all homesteader characters start with the only the minimum starting money for their class.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Forest of Fiends: Temples on the Frontier

Okay, so I've been developing my jungle sandbox campaign setting a bit more.  Because the effort on the coast of the ancient continent is led by contingents from the temples of several major deities I need to sketch in some basic information on them.  In the beginning the temples of The Radiant Triad (Torm, Tyr, and Ilmater) provided priests, paladins, soldiers, servants, and pilgrims for the holy crusade and the faithful of did not stint in providing support of all kinds.  Alas, their first fleet was wrecked on the coast in an ouragan storm and only a few survivors escaped in a small boat to tell the tale.  Two smaller expeditions explored the coast more cautiously and eventually discovered the island they named Light of Fortune.  After establishing a base in the abandoned town of Tahala and bringing reinforcements they quelled the ire of the local tiefling savages and pacified them by teaching proper worship of the True Gods.  With the help of tiefling laborers from the newly-pacified clans the Temple of Jannath cleared jungle and built a small village named Lady of Bounty dedicated to the goddess.  Unfortunately, not long afterwards the village was ravaged and mostly burned by evil fey marauders.  The rebuilding is mostly complete but more settlers are needed.

Temple of Torm (God of duty, loyalty, and obedience [LG])

Our here on the frontier the clerics of dauntless Torm are led by the dashing but vain Paladin-Captain Rynaldo Lyma <male/human>, about whom the songs are many.  The majority of the representatives of this temple out here are paladins but there are still many clerics and others.  Paladins are always stationed at the docks to determine the quality of the souls of new arrivals.  Those found wanting are sentenced to paid positions under "supervised service", mostly as oarsmen on two small triremes (the Tidecutter and Ocean of Faith) which patrol near the island, up the river, and along the coast; others work with hammer and chisel to level the rock at the island's highest point to prepare for a planned temple.

Temple of Tyr (God of justice and war [LG])

Judge-General Chessanta Turindei Urbaville <female/dwarf>  is first among the clerics of incorruptible Tyr.  The temple operates the only court of law out here on the edge of the world.  The temple of Tyr is represented mostly by judge-priests here, but there are a few paladins.  The judges work with the paladins of Torm to find fair employment for those arrivals whose souls are found to be clouded.  The temple also has a contingent of mercenaries, half halberdiers and half crossbowmen, led by two Priest-Captain clerics of the temple.  These defend the island, Lady of Bounty, and serve as marines on the two patrol galleys.

Temple of Ilmater: God of martyrdom and patience [LG])

The priests and priestesses of Ilmater currently have no one preeminent among them.  They operate a small hospital on the island, providing healing to all who enter without prejudice or fee.  Most of his clerics, however, are currently onshore ministering to  the pacified tielfing clans and the colonists at Lady of Bounty.  They sooth fears, heal wounds, and teach forebearance.  Many have willingly gone forth into the jungle to proselytize more tieflings and more than a few subsequently gladly accepted martyrdom in his service.

Temple of Chauntea, called by some Bhalla or Jannath (Goddess of agriculture, farmers, gardeners, summer [NG])

The center of activity for the Grain Goddess is the struggling colony of Lady of Bounty.  The chief priestess Henrielta Lurical <female/human> is determined to tame the savage jungle and replace it with proper, decent fields of grain and orchards for fruit.  The village is well-located, with fairly good soil, a river along one side, and a spring for fresh water; it is also protected by a log stockade.  However the fey of the jungle seem to hate the place and they harass it constantly.  About two weeks ago it was attacked by an unusually large band of raiders who burned over half the buildings and some of the stockade.  The inhabitants are mostly "volunteer homesteaders" transported from the Holy Realms and thus not fit material for farming or fighting.  They are instead a mix of half-orcs, half-elves, petty criminals, beggars and vagrants, ransomed debtors, and some political exiles.

Temple of Tymora (Goddess of Luck, Adventure, Travel  [CG])

Tymora is the only deity with a fully consecrated temple out here.  It is led by Luck-Chanter Sanchetta Lurical <female/human>--free-spirited older sister of the chief priestess of Chauntea at Lady of Bounty.  In fact Sanchetta eagerly came out here as a way to tease her stuffy (but much loved) little sister.  The other temples currently make due with small portable shrines in temporary housing, which causes some resentment.  The House of Tymora, however, is not a simple temple but a thriving bar, casino, and (so persistent rumors have it) brothel.  The goddess is a natural focus for worship under the circumstances and her casino temple is the only major location in Tahala for fun.  The clerics of the Radiant Triad are not amused by this den of iniquity but shutting it down would destroy morale and likely lead to rioting.  They content themselves with stiff watch patrols in its vicinity.

Friday, October 13, 2017

There's Only One Condition (Simple Condition Rules for Old School Hack)

So, yes I am still chugging along with my hack of the very fun Old School Hack, thanks for asking.  Being a very old school game, it does not waste any space on rules for "conditions", such as dazed or nauseated.  I wanted to add some condition rules, but they had to be very simple.  An excellent example for me of the approach NOT to take is Pathfinder.  Pathfinder has 36 (!) conditions.  Several have names which are way too similar in meaning, such as Frightened and Panicked, and many apply such slight modifiers that they aren't really worth bothering with: Oh, no, I have a -1 to attack rolls for 3 rounds!? Pfffftt, whatever.

Thinking over a quick and easy way to do conditions I decided that really there are three basic states for a creature: 1) fine (no impairments), 2) suffering a condition which partially impairs (such as blindness or nausea), and 3) suffering a condition which totally impairs (such as being paralyzed or unconscious).  Fine is fine and totally impaired is totally impaired, so we really only have to tackle conditions which partially impair.  I decided up front that there should be a single, easy-to-remember  mechanic for all impairing conditions (as opposed to a massive list with finicky micro-rules).  In the end I went with the advantage/disadvantage mechanic from D&D 5th Edition.

So when a character is suffering a condition which partially impairs and they need to roll for some action, the GM rolls a d12 against them which is the condition die.  If the condition die beats  the character's roll, either the 1d12 roll for an attribute check or the both of the d10s (individually) for an attack roll, then the character action fails.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Doing Initiative Like a (Dungeon) Boss!

Okay, so I've been playing this fun RPG batttle game on my mobile phone called Dungeon Boss.  You acquire heroes, run dungeons, level up, etc.  The initiative is based on classing each hero or monster as fast, normal, or slow.  Fast characters/monsters go first, then normals, then slows.  I'm interested in adapting this for regular RPG games.  I don't quite like the old school "party initiative" because it lumps everyone together regardless of dexterity, encumbrance, etc. and I'm tired of slogging through the stilted 3E/Pathfinder individual initiative (even though I generally treat the party's opponents as one group to speed things up).

So the Dungeon Boss initiative model looked like an interesting alternative.  The first step is to sort your classes into the three speed categories:

Old School Classes
Thief = fast
Halfling = fast
Fighter =normal
Elf = normal
Magic-User = slow
Cleric = slow
Dwarf = slow

D&D 3E/Pathfinder Classes

If one side has more fast heroes than the other then that side automatically gets the initiative.  Otherwise, you roll 1d6 for each side as though you were doing party style initiative and the higher scoring side gets the initiative  The winning initiative side acts with all fast heroes then the other side acts with all its fast heroes.  Next all the normal speed heroes on the winning side act, etc.  The overall sequence will look like this:
  1. Winning side fast heroes
  2. Other side fast heroes
  3. Winning side normal heroes
  4. Other side normal heroes
  5. Winning side slow heroes
  6. Other side slow heroes
This method has its own quirks but I'm looking for something with more granularity than old school initiative but without the tedious fiddly bits in 3E initiative.