Monday, February 22, 2010

Resources, Damages, and Scales of Play

Earlier I've talked about various scales of play and how to move between them. One thing that becomes obvious when considering this is that you need to have different resources at each level of play.

Let's jump to an example. In older D&D, the primary character resource is the Hit Point. This resource is primarily depleted on a round-by-round basis, and its fully restored theoretically on a weekly or monthly basis (1 point per day with rest), but practically restored in a day or two (using clerical magic -- a down day where the cleric packs a bunch of healing spells will take care of most seriously wounded parties). The other resource is the Spell Slot, and this is also restored on a daily basis.

This works pretty well; by the mid-levels a party often has enough endurance for a few encounters denominated in rounds and then their daily resources are done. It has some major implications in the end game, however. For example, Delta has pointed out many times that the end game in D&D doesn't work. This is because an attack in one round that does 1d6 damage will do 10d6 damage over 10 rounds; and if the figure making said attack over 10 rounds consists of 20 orcs, then it will do 200d6 damage.

The HP transitions equally poorly for other purposes as well. For example, take forced marching in AD&D. Dealing some HP damage as a consequence of forced marching is meaningless as HP were restored every day. What's the point of incurring some damage for a long day's march if its just restored again in a day anyways? So, in AD&D the rule for forced marching incurs a loss of HD and it will take several days to fully recover. Other events start to pick up longer recovery times on the order of a magnitude as well: recovering after being in negative HP, the time it takes for a high level caster to fully recover all expended spells (add it up; its longer than you might think), ability score damage, and so on.

All this points, IMHO, to the need for different resources at different levels of scales. For example, I could just use HP at the segment level and then multiply all damage done by 10 for events played out on the round level and 100 for events played out on the turn level. But this leads to "no heroes in war."

WOTC realized this, at least in part, with the advent of Healing Surges in 4E. This mechanic works well on at least two levels of scale: HP continue to be used for things where the recovery time is measured in about a turn (the "short rest" of a few minutes), and Healing Surges are used for things where the recovery takes a day ("the long rest" overnight). Healing Surge loss could be used for quickly abstracting an entire situation (for example; "You have a boring random encounter and lose one healing surge; the environment is very hot and you all lose a healing surge. We all move on with our lives.") operating on the turns or even maybe hours level. I could see it working well for mass combat, where a formation of orcs attacking a hero might result int he loss of a healing surge or two rather than the massive (and lethal)loss of HP that would otherwise result.

It still doesn't work well for events occurring on the "many hours" level for things like forced marching as they're all recovered overnight. After this was exploited many times in skill challenges, our DM implemented a house rule of "resistant healing surge" loss which persisted for a longer period of of time or until several milestones were reached.

White Wolf also realized this with the use of three different types of wounds: bashing damage recovers in a few minutes, lethal damage takes days, and aggravated takes much longer. Additionally, there is a Willpower resource, which is recovered bit by bit on a daily basis but requires around a week to top off from empty.

So, my bottom line is that you need to consider having more than just one consumable resource if you want to be able to move between scales of play.

I've got more thoughts but for now this has turned out to be a fairly robust post, so more to come later.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I just found a nifty free game called "Elegia." It is intended as a hybrid between a simple old-school game (think 3LBB) and 8-bit console RPGs. I never really played console RPGs, but I still found the implementation to be charming. It looks like a solid, simple, and playable system. I was hooked when I saw that the author also chooses to use stones for enc! I was also happy to see the movement rates and such which line up nicely with my thoughts on Hexploration. It also shows a four-attribute system implemented pretty smoothly, and the skill list is not bad.

I was originally disappointed by the magic system, which focuses on flashy evocation. However, the author's notes later in the text explained the reasoning, which does make sense.

But video games actually have one noteworthy advantage over the traditional
model of tabletop RPG, and it all boils down to those oft-derided limitations.
In video games, the magic system is simple and focused. Wizards are good at
raining down fiery death upon their enemies, but they lack the game-breaking
spells that allow them to solve any challenge easily and one-up the other
character classes at every turn. Wizards can’t divine for secrets, polymorph
themselves or their opponents, fly or teleport past physical obstacles with
impunity, or end the adventure with a single well-worded wish. And magical items
are rare enough that nobody else can do these things either.
In a nutshell,
the truncated magic system forces players of all experience levels to think
creatively. Even players in control of 20th level characters can’t rely on
spells or items to solve all of their problems. This frees up the referee to use
a wider range of challenges—things that would make high-level characters in
other RPG systems yawn, while the players look to their character sheets for the
half-dozen ways that they can bypass the obstacle with no thought or originality
involved. (Unless, of course, the problem at hand is monsters that aren’t dead
yet. Elegia magic remains pretty darned good at cracking that particular

In any event, its free and takes only 10 minutes to skim. Could be a fun way to burn an afternoon someday!

I've labeled this as an "indie game," but really just because that's my tag for "3rd party games." This is really more of the "Old School Renaissance" flavor. I need to go add it to the list of retroclones...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Clubs: A Fourth Skill List?

I feel comfortable with the three skill lists I have generated thus far:
Probitates (Warrior - spades)
Liberal Arts (Priests - hearts)
Mechanical Arts (Artisans - diamonds?)

The last question is -- what about clubs? Clubs are often associated with the peasantry. I could give them a few of the mechanical arts, such as agriculture. Or, I could go with DW's taxonomy and use them for rogues, thieves vagabonds, and highwaymen.

On the other hand, I could just ignore them. Three skill lists is good. However, at this point I also like the idea of having one list for each suit of cards.

What about recycling other skill lists?

I don't think I can just reuse, say, the AD&D thief skills here. For the first thing, some of them have already been claimed by other lists. "Climbing" and scaling walls falls under the warrior's probitates, for example. "Deciphering languages" should probably fall under the liberal arts.

One thing I might be able to do is split up the Mechanical Arts. Put all those related to industriousness and agriculture under Clubs, and all those related to merchants/trade/urban pursuits under diamonds.

The Danger of Class-as-Role

Skills should not be overly technical or essential. For example, if you have a skill for "Assassination" then it implies anyone without this skill can't do some quiet killing. Likewise, skills shouldn't be obviously criminal in nature. For example, "hunting" is already one of the mechanical arts; hunting could obviously be poaching, as well! A villein cotter might have a rank in "Armaments/Smithing" from the mechanical arts.

So, I want to keep this skill list "dual use." They should be things that can be done for woe or weal, although they might have a predilection for nefarious activity.

I haven't been able to find an easy reference for this. However, this site has had some interesting primary source links.

What Other Associations do We Have

Clubs is associated with more than agriculture. Originally, the Latin suite was that of "baston," which means a stick, club, or cudgel. While these have associations with the mob and peasantry, the fasces was also a symbol of authority. There is also the tarot association with staves and power (either wielding it or submitting to it). Another theme is simplicity and nature. Yet another is creativity and willpower.

We could use the seven "mancies" -- hydromancy, pyromancy, etc. These represent various magical arts. For peasants, they could just represent connections with the land in various ways. But for those with "the gift," they could be keys to magical power. I don't like this approach however as it undermines the relationship that each of the suits already has to an element.

Perhaps something to stew on for awhile...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Two Views of Magic-Users

A few weeks ago, DW and I were discussing magic-users. The context of this discussion was how the various classes mapped to suits of cards.

Fighters are easy: They match up with spades, the traditional symbol of swords and the nobility. Clerics are likewise simple: they match with hearts, the traditional symbol of the chalice (symbolizing the Eucharist) and priesthood.

Rogues and Magic-Users are harder. I instinctively matched rogues with diamonds -- the symbol of wealth, and the third estate more oriented to crafts. Artisans, if you will; guilds, urban development, and so on. I then matched mages to clubs, which is a symbol for wands and is commonly associated with the common agricultural peasants. Plus, there tends to be LOTS of peasants, which explain why they have more mages than other classes; if even 1% of people have some sort of magical talent which shows up independent of social class or education or rearing, then the pool of 1,000,000 peasants will produce more magicians than the pool of 1000 nobles, 1000 priests, or 10,000 artisans.

In this schema, rogues are dashing urban ne'er do wells and magicians are dangerous. Magic gives great power to a typically passive and downtrodden class. The fact that magical talent shows up in the lowest of the third estate would be a reason for barons and bishops alike to keep careful tabs on their peasantry. This schema introduces a great potential instability into the traditional medieval power structure.

DW however jumped to a different pairing. She associated rogues with the peasantry of clubs, as they have no real skills of their own. They are vagabonds, vagrants, knaves, and drifters. This is also archetypal. Magic-users then got associated with diamonds. With this scheme, magic-users are much less troubling to the setting: they can be a guild, like any other skilled artisan group. A ruler dislikes a powerful merchant's guild but must put up with them; the same goes for the pesky magic-user's guild.

Honestly, you could go either way. I kind of like the former as I like to think fo magic as unstable and dangerous but am split maybe 60/40 -- I can also see a high magic setting where magic is just another guild. Anyways, I thought it was an interesting way to see how the basic conceptions of a simple mechanic can have profound influences on the setting.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Clerics and their Powers

I want to spend a few minutes thinking about clerics for a bit. This began when I watched an episode of Band of Brothers and thought of the spiritual anguish taken on by some healers. Hrm... Perhaps a way to heal physical wounds by taking on spiritual damage, or vice versa?

In any event, I started thinking a little harder. If you look at the OD&D and then AD&D spell lists, clearly the spells are inspired, at least in part, by Christian miracles. Cure Blindness, Cure Disease, Exorcism -- its all there. So, I started digging a little more into Xtian miracles and whatnot and compiled a few lists.

  1. Feed the hungry
  2. Give drink to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless
  5. Visit the sick
  6. Visit the imprisoned
  7. Bury the dead

  1. Instruct the ignorant;
  2. Counsel the doubtful;
  3. Admonish sinners;
  4. Bear wrongs patiently;
  5. Forgive offences willingly;
  6. Comfort the afflicted;
  7. Pray for the living and the dead.

  1. Baptism (one time only)
  2. Confirmation (one time only)
  3. Eucharist
  4. Penance
  5. Annointing of the Sick
  6. Holy Orders (one time only)
  7. Matrimony

  1. Cures
  2. Exorcisms
  3. Raising the dead
  4. Control over nature

OD&D and AD&D jumps right to the "miracles" and skips past the sacraments. I think for a "lower key" game, you could have something that uses the sacraments -- in a manner that's relevant to the game. You could also use the works of mercy as a way to allow characters to recharge karma, faith points, whatever you want to call it. Miracles could be a bit rarer.

Obviously for a game focused on duality it'd be easy to flip everything around in reverse. Harms instead of cures, possession/summoning instead of exorcisms, slaying the living instead of raising the dead, and calling forth baneful uncontrollable aspects of nature rather than controlling nature's wrath. Likewise, flipping the sacraments around to create an evil/chaotic code of conduct is simplistic.

A polytheistic game is a bit harder. But, I could see a way where you come up with a list of key sacraments and miracles and works for different deities.

Also, I wouldn't want to be too tied to the exact miracles performed by J.C. After all, part of a miracle is that its, well, miraculous. For example, the "miracle of the sun" could have been inspiration for the humble light spell.

I think a more coherent, possibly monotheistic cleric class could be a good thing. Especially if obviously miracolous acts were toned down. OD&D has a nice flavor where level 1 clerics can't do magic. But even a level 2 cleric can perform miracles. By the time you get to the mid-levels, you can do the same stuff Jesus did, every day, with no particular cost. This seems to cheapen the divine, in my opinion. It just makes it another parlor trick or consumable resources, using the same mechanic as magic-users.

Not really many firmed up thoughts here, but just figured I'd jot this down for now.