Sonntag, März 18, 2012

Burgen & Backwaren - How it came to be (Part 4)

This part is about skills and character progression. (Number 1, 2, 3)

Right from the beginning it was clear that skill would have a level, that they would be used for bonus dice, narrating facts and some special function, like attacking, healing, defending. The set of special applications changed a lot. In the end, there were eight main types.

But how would skill levels be assigned? I wanted to make it simple. One experience point should be one skill level. Taking inspirations only from the best, I borrowed FATE's skill pyramid, but turned into stairs. In FATE, a character need always more skills at level n-1 than at level n. In B&B, a character must have at least one skill at every level from 1 to n.

This method is very clever way to have a character level, without having a character level. In D&D3 for example, there is hard cap based on character level. In FATE, there is an implicit cap: the highest possible pyramid you can build with a certain number of skill points. In my experience, such caps are the only way to reliably prevent characters getting too powerful. Other games use escalating costs for higher skill level. Higher level calculation aside, I don't think escalating costs do what they should. They are supposed to encourage buying a more diverse set of skill for a character. In my experience, players will only save longer to buy their favorite skills, thereby doing the opposite.

Next, I introduced add-ons to skills. These include specials like attacking several targets, healing in the fray, summoning better followers. Stuff like that. They are not always active, but require a special condition. There is a common list for conditions and a specific list of add-ons for each type of skill.

The concept is very similar to SFX in the new Marvel Heroic RPG by Cam Banks et al. That's coevolution, mind you, so I'm very glad that I have similar ideas as the guys at MWP. Unlike heros in MHRPG, heros in B&B shouldn't have add-ons to every one of their skills.

In the beginning, I tried to grant a bonus to skills without add-ons. But that didn't feel right. A simple skill should be just plain worse than an augmented one. The final solution was surprisingly simple and addressed another issue as well. It goes like this: Characters can only have add-ons to half their skills. Round down.

Again a hard cap was simpler than incentives, and more effective. In addition, this rule proved to be a further incentive to spread a character's skill set. A character with more skills at lower levels will have more add-ons.

Samstag, März 17, 2012

Burgen & Backwaren - How it came to be (Part 3)

Part 3. (Number 1, 2)

After determining the basic process for rolling dice, I addressed health and damage next. I wanted several ways to overcome opponents in the game, but have all of them work in the same manner. Those tactics were physical attacks, intimidation and confusion.

Each requires an attack roll, defense is substracted from the successes and remaining successes accumulate as damage. With enough damage, a character is taken out. I went for a line of damage boxes with increasing penalties, as found in Shadowrun or WoD.

I only made a single line for all three types of damage. I figured, a character would be more open for intimidation after some beating etc. Players denote the damage taken with a letter (P, I, C).

How many damage boxes should a character have? I wanted an heroic game, and was very partial to 7th Sea, and its character ranks. In 7th Sea, there are mooks, lieutenants and heros/villains. The protagonists are heros of course, lieutenants are weaker and mooks are not individual characters at all. I like the idea, but felt that there should be something more powerful than PCs. So PCs take the middle of Commoners, Master and Monster. They got health tracks like that...

Commoners O O KO
Masters O O L L S S KO
Monsters O O O L L L S S S KO

... with L for light penalties, S for severe penalties.

In many games, like 7th Sea and D&D4, the lowest class of of characters doesn't have Health at all and only a reduced set of other stats. That's a problem, because that approach often results in characters' actions having not the full effect. When a character in D&D4 attacks a Minion, the damage doesn't matter. That means a barbarian or fighter fighting a minion in melee isn't anymore effective than a wizard with a staff (provided the wizard takes melee training). It's similar in 7th Sea, where most Swordmen's knacks won't work against mooks.

So my commoners needed a reasonable health track. They don't get any boxes with penalties to reduce the book keeping. But how should those penalties work? Remembering my three ways of making rolls more difficult, I went with increasing the success threshold to 5+ and 6. This way taking damage really feels like a burden, making every single die worse.

There was some fluctuation over how damage should be healed. At first, I tried to handle all three types differently. Then I made them all the same. At last, I came up with this:

Confusion fades, when it makes sense. Usually when the victim gets new information. Intimidating and physical damage need to be treated. Almost all games I know, assume some degree of natural healing. In B&B, you need a doctor or maybe you remember your first aid lessons. (I'll tell you in a later installment how that works.)

Donnerstag, März 08, 2012

Burgen & Backwaren - How it came to be (Part 2)

So on to the second part. (This is the first one.)

When I started, I soon settled for a d6 pool system with 4+ as the standard success threshold. Where Donjon had used Attribute + Skill + Bonus Dice, I chose

Some dice
+ Skill
+ Bonus Dice.

To explain this difference, I need to divulge a little bit about my gaming socialisation. In the old World of Darkness rule books, there were some hints for every level of a trait on how that particular level would look and feel in play. That's great. I'm all for this method. It doesn't work in WoD though, because you always use the sum of two traits. The information gained from the descriptions was meaningless.[1]

Scarred by this experience, I decided that, in my games, every trait you write down would be used as is for at least one purpose. With this precept, adding attribute and skill wouldn't work for me, and besides I had other plans for my attributes.

Since players might want to use untrained skills, there should be some dice even before the skill level. After some experiments, I settled for 3d6.

I also decided to limit the number of bonus dice. Bonus dice can show special advantages, help from allies and preparation. That's nice, but I didn't want players to think about them for too long. First, I tried to use rules like "you cannot more than double your dice pool with bonus dice". That worked, but made characters who were good at certain actions even better. So finally, the limit became 3 + Character Level.

With bonuses accounted for, how would the game treat difficulties? There are three rather obvious ways to do it: Take away dice before the roll, take away successes after the roll, or change the success threshold to a higher number.

Last things first, fiddling with success threshold wasn't a good option. With a d6 and a basic threshold of 4+, there is only 5+ and 6 to go. This method works much better in Shadowrun, because Shadowrun employs exploding dice.

Remaining we have substracting dice and substracting successes. Substracting dice is used in nWoD, and it's pretty. Because after your roll, your result is the result. When you roll four successes on an attack, the opponent will take four damage. That makes the game feel quite brutal.

There is a disadvantage, though. You cannot possibly roll, before you know the difficulty. You cannot proclaim "I smite thee!" and roll the dice. You need to learn your opponents defense first. Since I was looking for a more heroic game, I didn't much care for nWoD's immediate effectiveness. So taking away successes it was.

[1] Note that nWoD doesn't have such information anymore.

Mittwoch, März 07, 2012

Burgen & Backwaren - How it came to be (Part 1)

Hi guys,

I'm going to give a short presentation, how I came up with my game "Burgen & Backwaren" (roughly "Castles & Cakes"). It all started, when we were playing Clinton R. Nixon's Donjon, a game providing "Old-School Dungeoneering with an all-new bent".

That new bent is narration rights for players, when they succeed on a roll. So when a player investigates a crime scene, there would be a roll, and the player can tell what she finds. Alternatively a player may use successes to provide bonus dice to a later die roll.

The stats on the character sheet included a set of six attributes, lifted from D&D and presented with funny names, freeform skills, and some other stuff.

We encountered some problems. First, the game uses a very complicated mechanism for rolls (contested rolls with Xd20). Secondly, the rule described above is not complete. There is more in Donjon to do with successes, apart from narrating facts and providing bonus dice. There is also damage, and healing, and summoning creatures and so on, and skills would factor into all those subsystems. That wouldn't be a problem, but with these freeform skill there was no hard and fast rule what subsystems a skill could influence. Thirdly, the homage to D&D, although funny, became rather old fast.

So, I decided to take the parts I really liked and make a new game from it. I devised three basic rules for my endeavour:

1.) Only one player shall roll, and only once for every action. (No seperate damage rolls etc.)

2.) There will be a clear list of subsystems to influence and each skill would apply to exactly one. Apart from that, each skill could still be used to provide bonus dice and create facts. Players will still be able to create a unique name for their skills.

3.) Put in attributes, and skills, and levels, an alignments, and all those things, but have each of them work in an unexpected way. (All-new benting and all.)

As this is part 1, I will look into each of those aspects in future posts. Those will be collected here:

Part 1 - And so it begins.
Part 2 - Rolling dice.