Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sundog the RPG

As a kid, I spent many happy hours playing Sundog on our Atari computer. In a nutshell, it was a great little space trading game that really maximized the potential of that early computer. It operated on four scales; travel on foot, travel in your ground rover pod, and of course, space based travel both within systems and between systems. I think that it might make a great pen and pencil game. There's still dedicated fans today, and that speaks to how much fun that game could be!

What do characters do?
The overarching goal of the game is to help a fledgling colony stand up on its feet by delivering needed supplies. In order to do this, characters will need to acquire money, explore planets, and fight off pirates.

What is the scale of the action?
Play occurs on four scales.
  • Individual/street level. Players wander city streets, visiting bars, hotels, banks, warehouses, tube transit stations, and stores. They have to deal with muggers.
  • Travel Pod/planet level. Players drive their ship's landing pod(s) on the planet's surface. The original game had no threats other than starvation and the main challenge here was a navigational puzzle to find your way from one location to the next by expending minimal resources. One could easily include some ground-based combat action in the ship's pod. Early in the game, you could only land on a planet's main spaceport. If you wanted to explore elsewhere, you needed to drive the pod.
  • Spaceship/Solar. The SunDog could fly from planet to planet within a system. The primary threat here was pirate attackers. Pirates could be fast talked, bribed, or fought off, or you could run for the nearest planet to land or outside the star's gravity well to make a hyper jump. A risk is running out of fuel; you can always charter a rescue ship to deliver fuel to your vessel, but that is costly and while you're waiting you are a sitting duck.
  • Spaceship/Interstellar: The ship can jump from star system to star system. Each star system has different trading opportunities. The primary risks here are much the same as in solar travel.
What do players do?

This is a game where one can easily institute some "niche protection" via classes or templates. As much of the action occurs in vehicles, it makes sense to have roles related to the vehicle. There should only be 2-3 critical roles so as to allow smaller groups to viably crew the ship. Here are some possible roles:
  • Engineer
  • Pilot
  • Gunner
  • Sensors Operator
I avoid a Captain explicitly as that should be something for the players to work out among themselves. One can imagine exciting action sequences with something for each player to do each round; the pilot is navigating the vessel towards the nearest planet as fast as possible, the gunner is holding off a pilot raider, and the engineer is trying to keep patched-together systems viable as long as possible. It might sound boring to be doing anything other than shooting; however, I recall some tense sequences where the ship was shaking and shuddering around my character while I frantically rummaged through the parts locker for a shunt to get the warp drive back online for that jump to hyperspace.

On the ground, the same roles translate pretty well to the pod. However, navigation becomes more important as the game transitions to more of an exploration mode.

Finally, on foot, the individuals will need ways to deal with muggers. They'll also have the opportunity to go shopping, to make deals in bars, and to role play with other NPCs.

Anyways, I'm kind of excited about this game. I think it could be fairly simple to design and I'm going to put some more thought into it. At least it is different from the D&D stuff I've been thinking about lately!

Here are some notes about the key features of the game for future reference:

  • Character's Ability Scores: Charisma, Luck, Dexterity, Stamina
  • Character's Stats: Hunger, Vigor, Rest, Health
  • Character Items: Rapidheal, Shield, Stinger, Scatter Gun, Burger, Beer, Peptab, Dextboost, Charmer, Nutrapack
  • Ship's Systems: Sub-C Engines, Warp Engines, Pilotage, Guns, Tactical, Shields

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Specialty Clerics: Fharlanghn

Fharlanghn, the Dweller on the Horizon, is the Oeridian god of Horizons, Distance, Travel, and Roads. He is a well-known deity on the world of Oerth. He wanders that world in person, his petitioners present in spirit form at crossroads and in mysterious oases. His symbol is a disk with a curved line representing the horizon, and an upturned crescent above that.
- Per Wikipedia

New Prime Requisite: CON
Alignment: TN
XP Penalty: 5%
Level 2: Bonus Language, Enchanted Quarterstaff
Level 6: Mount
Level 12: Bonus Language
Special: Traveller's Luck
Special: Overland Speed Bonus

Description of Benefits:
  • Bonus Languages: At the designated levels, clerics of Fharlanghn may learn an additional language due to their propensity to wander and meet individuals from all over the realm. This ability is hard to evaluate in cost according to our rubric; one could argue that mastery of languages is a magic-user class feature, but if it is, it is a weak one. -1.25%.
  • Enchanted Quarterstaff: The cleric may use the magic-user's spell Enchanted Weapon, but only on quarterstaves. Note that the quarterstaff is generally an inferior weapon except for magic staves which can be excellent; this allows a cleric of Fharlanghn to use his deity's favored weapon without it being a totally sub-par choice. Normally a spell costs -2.5%. However, this is a very limited application of the spell, so 1/2 seems appropriate.
  • Mount: Clerics of Fharlanghn may cast the mount spell as a bonus spell. This enhances their mobility and ability to wander. This is a useful travel and utility spell, and worth the full -2.5%.
  • Traveller's Luck: The cleric enjoys a percentage chane equal to their level that a baneful overland travel or random encounter is avoided. The DM should secretly roll, and if the dice show a result lower than the cleric's level, the encounter does not occur or is replaced with a neutral or friendly encounter. This is another hard to evaluate ability that nicely scales with level and is useful at all times in the cleric's career. We could argue that classes like the Ranger also have an ability to avoid baneful encounters, and this is a more limited application of that. 2.5%.
  • Overland Speed Bonus: The cleric gains a bonus to overland speed in inches equal to their level divided by four when marching on foot. Thus a 5th level cleric of Fharlanghn with a normal move of 9" enjoys an overland travel speed of 10". This allows a cleric of Fharlanghn to wear heavier armor yet keep up with lightly-clad and fast moving groups. This is another quite limited benefit, difficult to evaluate. Perhaps worth 1.25%.
This gives us a total of 10% in costs, -2.5% for the blanket offset for a total of 7.5%. However, because few of the abilities are really directly combat related, I will reduce it to a 5% XP penalty.

Friday, September 24, 2010

An interesting twist

I'm not always a huge fan of the DF Workshop because all too often it is just a repository of an endless stream of new monsters, magic items, and spells. I already have more of each of those than can be used.

Here's a person's twist on a variant version of D&D. Not saying I love it but it is interesting and a breath of fresh air!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

AD&D Specialty Clerics Series

Sorry for the light posting! It has been a busy and beautiful summer in Alaska. Given that we're still in the midst of hunting season I expect posting to remain light until the winter closes in on us.

As a holdover for my loyal readers (and Chinese Gold Farming Comment Bots) I'm going to start a weekly series that discusses specialty clerics for AD&D. The purpose of specialty priests is to differentiate the different types of priesthoods. It also slightly power-ups the cleric class. Clerics are already very formidable -- I think they are the most potent class in the game. However, there is usually no surplus of them at the gaming table. Nobody wants to be the "medic" or "heal bot." However, clerics are the heart and soul of a party. I'm alright with "souping them up" if it means they are more popular.

Expect these posts about once per week.


Specialty clerics have long been thought about for AD&D; in A Guide to the World of Greyhawk (Gygax, 1983), Gary introduced a series of specialty clerics. These variants on the core class gave specialized benefits at the cost of XP penalties. Unfortunately, there are problems with implementation.

Gary's benefits are not evenly spread out. Some are front loaded (i.e., you get all the goodies in early levels) and others are delayed until name level or later, when they won't really come into play at all. For example, the Cleric of Heironious puts up with a 10% XP penalty his entire career to get a 1x/week bolt of energy (which is pretty awesome) at level 11. That's great if you're playing a name level campaign but useless if the campaign will end by level 7. Others are front loaded, which makes them prime candidates for a quick dual-class dip.

As previously mentioned, Gygax imposes XP penalties on clerics who take advantage of their special abilities. After some analysis, this is the rule of thumb I've drawn from his work:
  • Adding a Class Function from another class: -5% XP
  • Adding a Bonus Spell, perhaps from another class: -2.5%
  • Blanket Offset: +2.5% (this basically means a specialty cleric gets "something for nothing")
Thus, clerics are generally souped up a small amount by Gary's work, at least gaining a spell for free. These are VERY approximate formulas, and I don't know how much Gary tested them out.


I've added abilities to clerics in exchange for XP penalties, similar in broad terms to what Gary pioneered. However, I have spread out the abilities to fill in "dead" levels where an AD&D cleric traditionally gets nothing. Here's an analysis of the AD&D cleric and what they get at each level:
  1. Level I Spells
  2. Nothing
  3. Level II Spells
  4. New THAC0 and saves
  5. Level III spells, weapon proficiency
  6. Nothing
  7. Level IV spells, new THAC0 and saves, Scribe Scrolls
  9. Level V spells, Weapon Proficiency, Stronghold, Penultimate Turn Undead Chart, Last HD
  10. Level 10 - New THAC0 & saves
  11. Level VI spells, Make Magic Items
  12. Nothing
  13. New THAC0 & saves, Proficiency
  14. Nothing
  15. Nothing
  16. Level VII spells, new THAC0 & saves
Abilities have been placed to fill "dead levels" as much as possible, or to provide growing benefits over the entire career of the cleric to discourage dual-class dips. "Front loading" abilities at level 2 allows clerics to quickly get a definitive ability. Level 12 abilities should be rare capstones. The exception are deities -- often evil -- which are really intended more for shamans or multiclasses (like half orcs). In this case, they remain front loaded. This is intentional, as it allows those shamans to access the benefits and it encourages a short sighted dual class dip to get power -- at the cost of alignment.

Abilities have also been selected with an eye towards maximizing underused spells and weapons. For example, the Battleaxe rarely gets much love as it is inferior to the longsword, making it ideal for a specialty priest. The same goes for many underutilized spells.

In addition to an XP penalty, each specialty priest adds a few new requirements.
  • New Prime Requisite: Wisdom is the default prime requisite of a cleric. It remains so with specialty clerics, but they also usually add a second prime requisite, similar to other subclasses (Paladins need CHA, etc). A specialty cleric must have at least a score of 15 in the new Prime Requisite. They must have greater than 15 for bonus XP. This is actually often a significant cost as it prevents clerics from putting scores in more useful abilities. If the new prime req is WIS, then it requires a 15 WIS (i.e., you can't be a specialty cleric with marginal WIS).
  • Alignment: A Specialty Cleric's alignment must exactly match that of their deity.
In general, all mentioned abilities are bonuses. So, if a spell is listed, that is a bonus spell slot which does not tie up a cleric's daily memorized quota, although it must be memorized as any other spell must be (time to rest, time for prayer, etc). A weapon proficiency or other feature is also a bonus, unless otherwise mentioned.


Here is the example cleric of Pelor, the NG Sun God.

New Prime Requisite: CHA
Alignment: NG
XP Penalty: 10%
Light (2), Cure Disease 1x/week & Lay on Hands as Paladin (2), Cloak of Bravery (6), Sunbeam (12)

  • At level 2, Clerics of Pelor take on their two primary roles: That of servants of the Sun (light), and that of exceptional healers. The minor paladin-like abilities grow throughout the cleric's career, encouraging progression in the cleric class.
  • At level 6 -- normally a dead level -- clerics of Pelor are able to cast Cloak of Bravery one level before they would otherwise. This spell allows them to confront evil. Moreover, this is a spell which is rarely memorized.
  • At level 12, the cleric gains a capstone ability that really symbolizes his class, the power of the sun and the ability to vanquish the undead.
  • A -10% XP penalty is paid to offset the three bonus spells and paladin abilities. Calculated, it should be -15%; three spells (-7.5%), two class functions (-10%), and the blanket offset (+2.5%). Consequently, 10% may seem generous. However, the cleric only gains one new non-cleric spell (Sunbeam) at a high level. Also, the Remove Disease paladin ability, which costs 5% is essentially obsolete by level 5 when it can be easily memorized far more than once per week and by level 7 when it can easily be scribed onto a scroll. Given that most of the spells are clerical -- i.e., little access to out of class powers -- and the cure disease feature is of limited utility past the lower levels, 10% seems appropriate.
Here's another cleric, one of Erynthul:

New Prime Requisite: STR
Alignment: CE
XP Penalty: 10%
Scare (2)

This minor ability fills a dead level. It also is a low-level ability, allowing shamans or half-orc clerics to take advantage of it. No XP penalty is needed to pay for this very minor ability.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Perfection Point

I saw an interesting blurb in a magazine about a new book, The Perfection Point: Sport Science Predicts the Fastest Man, the Highest Jump, and the Limits of Athletic Performance
. It is about the physical theoretical human limits of athletic performance. For example, the author comes up with some of these estimates:

100 meter dash: Record 9.58 seconds, theoretical max 8.99 seconds
Longest golf drive: Record 418 yards, theoretical max 543 yards
Highest dunk: Record 12 feet, theoretical max 14' 5"

I don't have the book yet but it seems like it could be quite interesting for game design if you want to know what the "best of the best" mortal performance should be.