Monday, July 30, 2012

White Box: Playing Card Magic

This magic system replaces Vancian magic and interacts with the Tempo/Milestone rule discussed earlier.  If a character opts to adopt Playing Card magic, they lose the benefits of Action Points.  Instead of gaining Action Points, characters draw and use Playing Cards which represent various spells.  Spells are originally obtained and gained throughout an adventure exactly like Action Points (i.e., start with a number equal to Tempo and gain at Milestones throughout).

My baseline "class" for S&W WB is the Cleric.  I have built all classes around the cleric XP, HP, BHB, and ST charts, so use those charts for this variant caster.

SUITS:  Suits represent "schools" of magic as well as various classical elements.

  • Hearts (Water):  Healing; white magic
    Major Effect:  The target immediately regains 1d6 HP per [potency] and the caster regains 1 HP per [potency].  This increases to 2d6 at level 4, 3d6 at level 7, and 4d6 at level 10.  The caster may target themselves or another creature within range.
    Tapped Effect:  At the start of each turn, the caster gains 1 temporary HP per [potency].  This increases to 2 HP at level 4, 3 HP at level 7, and 4 HP at level 10.  These temporary HP do not stack and go away when the tapped effect expires.
  • Diamonds (Earth):  Wards; white magic
    Major Effect: Create a magical barrier that affects 1d6 per [potency] spaces in a contiguous barrier.  The barrier persists until the aftereffect is expended.  Any foe who hits the magical barrier must immediately stop their movement, although movement may resume the next round.  Undead, conjured, summoned, or other otherworldy creatures take 1 HP per tier per [potency] damage when forcing their way though the barrier.  Missile attacks from enemies through the barrier receive -1 per [potency] to hit.  Allies gain a +1 bonus to saving throws per [potency] against effects from the other side of the barrier.
    Tapped Effect:  Gain +1 AC and +2 on saving throws per [potency].
  • Clubs (Fire):  Smite; black magic
    Major Effect: Deal 1d6 HP damage per [potency].   This increases to 2d6 at level 4, 3d6 at level 7, and 4d6 at level 10.  This damage must be allocated to one target who may save for 1/2 damage.
    Tapped Effect:  Deal +1 damage per [potency] with all weapons.
  • Spades (Air):  Enchantment; black magic
    Major Effect:  Move any creature 1d6 paces per [potency].  This effect must be allocated to one target who may save in order to cut the forced movement in half (round down).  Targets may be allies who can choose to forgo a save.   If the campaign permits, vertical movement (i.e. flight) is permitted.
    Tapped Effect:  Move any creature 1 pace per [potency].  The target may save to negate all forced movement.  The target may change each round but must be within range.  Targets may be allies.  If the campaign permits, vertical movement (i.e. flight) is permitted.
    Variant:  Instead of outright forbidding flight, the DM may require each movement to end on a firm surface.  One can imagine huge leaps and bounds more easily than levitation.
CARD TYPES:  The type of card (number or face) affects its potency and quality.
  • Numbers (2-10):  These are the "bread and butter" of a wizard's spell book.  They are useful as they are often easy to cast due to lower target numbers.
    Effect:  The number of columns of symbols represents the potency of the spell.  For example, the four of diamonds has a potency of two as there are two columns of diamonds.
  • Aces High:  Basic aces are simple "cantrips" easily mastered by most wizards.  However, there are more advanced versions of these spells available.  The character may treat an ace as a low card (potency 1/casting cost 1) or a high card (potency 4/casting cost 11).
  • Jacks:  Represents Sulfur, the aggressive and offensive aspects of magic.  The power of Sulfur invokes mighty forces which are simply unmatched by any other known spells in raw power.Casting Cost:  The casting cost is 11.
    Potency:  5
    Special:  Range is equal to 6d6 + INT modifier + LEVEL/3 + 1.  While this card is in effect, gain +2 on casting checks for any other cards of the same suit or for any other knights.
  • Kings:  Represents Salt, the resilient aspects of magic.  Salt makes the caster a bastion on the battlefield, a fixture to which friends will rally and foes will recoil.
    Casting Cost:  The casting cost is 11.
    Potency:  3
    Special:  The caster conjures a powerful aura which moves with the caster.  All creatures within 2 paces (about 10 feet) at the start of the caster's round may be affected by the suit's effect (caster's choice to avoid friendly fire for friends or buffing foes).  The King of Diamonds effect creates a mobile 10' bubble of protection that moves with the caster.  Roll 2d6 instead of 1d6 and take the more favorable for all duration expiration checks for spells of the same suit as the king so long as the king in play.
  • Queens:  Represents Quicksilver, the most destructive and flexible aspects of magic.
    Casting Cost:  The casting cost is 11.
    Special:   Consider the card to be potency [3].  Healing (hearts), smite damage (clubs), and forced movement (spades) may be allocated to multiple targets (1d6 per target minimum) within range.  Wards may be split into multiple areas (1d6 per area).  The tapped affect can benefit both the caster and two targets within range (determined at the start of each turn).  You may "split" the major effects (but not after effects) of any other cards of the same suit as the queen so long as the queen remains in play.
RANGE:  Many magical effects are personal buffs.  Unless otherwise noted, the maximum range for other spells in paces (5') is equal to 2d6 + INT modifier (usually +1 or -1) + LEVEL/3 (round down) + 1 or line of sight, whichever is more restrictive.  Note that LEVEL/3 + 1 is often referred to as "tier" and is used for many other effects throughout the game, so it should be a familiar and readily available number.

CASTING:  To cast a spell, roll 2d6 + INT modifier (usually +1 or -1) + LEVEL/3 + 1.  The difficulty is equal to the number on the playing card.  Casting occupies an entire round.  Casters must remain stationary.  If struck by a foe during the same round as casting a spell, impose a penalty equal to the amount of damage dealt to the casting roll.
  • Immediate:  If your modified roll is equal to the number on the playing card or higher then the spell's major effect occurs at the end of your round.  Play the card in front of you straight up and down and assess the spell immediately.
  • Delayed:  If you fail to cast the spell but are only one short, then the spell is delayed.  Play it sideways in front of you at the start of your next turn.  The "tapped effect" described above goes into effect immediately.  Each round thereafter roll 1d6 at the start of each of your round (no action required).  On a roll of 5-6 the spell activates with its Major Effect; rotate the card to be straight up and down.
  • Fizzle:  If you fail and are two short, then the spell fizzles.  Your turn is wasted, the card remains in your hand, and nothing happens.
  • Negated:  If you fail and are three short, then the spell is negated.  Discard the card and draw another one.  Your turn is wasted.
DURATION & AFTER EFFECTS:  Immediately after a spell completes its major effect, the "tapped effect" goes into effect.  This can also kick in with a "delayed" spell prior to the major effect.  At the end of each combat round in which you have a spell active (i.e. card played, but not "delayed") then you must roll 1d6 as a free action.  On a roll of 5-6 then the card is rotated 90 degrees (tapped); if already tapped, then it is removed from play and the spell expires.
  • Concentration:  You may spend your entire round concentrating on the spell; in this case, roll a casting check exactly as above in addition to the usual 1d6 check.  If either is successful then the spell persists.  Ignore results of "delayed, fizzle, or negated."
SUMMONING  (OPTIONAL SUBSYSTEM): A sub-system for summoning will be introduced in a later supplement.

SPECIALTY CASTERS (OPTIONAL SUBSYSTEM):  Wizards by default are generalists who dabble in all types of magic and those are the ones who have been described here.  Some, however, focus their efforts on specific types of magic.
  • White Wizards:  Gain +2 on all casting checks for red cards and -4 on casting checks for all black cards.  When drawing spells or at any milestone, the player may discard any black card and draw again until they draw a red card.  Most white wizards are lawful.
  • Black Wizards:   Gain +2 on all casting checks for black cards and -4 on casting checks for all red cards.  When drawing spells or at any milestone , the player may discard any red card and draw again until they draw a black card.  Most black wizards are chaotic.
  • Suit Specialist:  Gain +2 on all casting checks for your chosen suit and -4 on casting checks for all other suits.  You may consider any card to be your favored suit but do not gain any bonus or penalty to cast it (for example, a specialist in Hearts may play the King of Hearts and get a +2 bonus; he can play the King of Spades and treat it as a Heart for all purposes but gets no bonus when casting).  If playing with Elements, the character's element and specialty must match.
NON-STANDARD EFFECTS (OPTIONAL SUB-SYSTEM):  Players may desire to cast spells in order to solve problems or create non-standard effects.  Such behavior should be encouraged but limited to prevent the need for excessive adjudication and delays of game.

To create a non-standard effect, rare and unusual components which cost 2 GP (or SP if on a SP system) per level squared.  For example, a fourth level caster will require 64 GP to cast a non-standard spell.  The DM may require spell components to match the suit or provide a discount for spell components which are suit-specific, for example, pearls for water/hearts or fire opals for fire/clubs.

When crafting non-standard spells, the DM and player should consider the following factors.
  • Suit:  This is the most important criterion.  Does the theme of the magic fall within the appropriate suit?  As a guide to suitability, players and DM may want to examine elemental correspondences to the four elements (earth/air/water/fire) (see appendix).  Sometimes it is helpful to use verbs associated with the four elements:
    Earth/Diamonds:  To Keep Silence
    Water/Hearts:  To Dare
    Air/Spades:  To Know
    Fire/Clubs:  To Will
  • Quality:  Face cards have unique qualities.  The qualities of face cards should be considered for appropriateness.  Number cards have neutral or no significant properties.  Face cards also help in constructing a "spell sentence" as the qualities can easily be converted to verbs:
    Jack = Sulfur = Initiate, start, begin
    King = Salt = Continue, maintain, extend
    Queen = Quicksilver = Transform, transition, conclude, destroy
  • Potency:  Exceptional, unique effects will likely require a potency 3 card or better.
  • Replication of other cards:  An expensive spell component should allow one element of another card to be replicated.  For example, an expensive spell component might allow any card to be cast at long range and at +2 potency over normal like a knight.  An expensive spell component might also allow the caster to substitute a different suit for the displayed suit.  Another possibility might be reducing the casting check difficulty.  Such usage is simple and likely will require only one card.
  • Combining Cards:  The most powerful effects may require multiple effects to be combined to form a "complete sentence."
One technique to use is to write a spell sentence with a verb, noun, and direct object ("I [VERB] [TARGET/DIRECT OBJECT]"). For example, say a magician is confronted with strange mystical writing on a fortified door.  He might say, "I understand the wards."  This likely requires a simple spades card (Air = To Know), with potency requirements determining how much of the message is decoded.  He might say, "I sunder the wards" which likely requires a simple clubs card (fire = to will), with potency requirements determining how effective the attempt is.  A diamond (earth) card might be generally useful as diamonds deal with wards generally.  An argument might even be made for a water card, as water is elementally opposed to earth (water erodes stone).

Complicated spell sentences are likely to require multiple cards to spell out everything.  In any event, assuming the caster's intent is clear and the sentence proposed reasonably relates to the spell card offered, the GM should interpret such attempts relatively favorably, although of course specific results may vary.  Even nonsense attempts may have some reasonable chance of success; however, it is rumored that mages who bend wildly inappropriate magic to their wills risk unleashing unknown and terrible forces, tipping the scales of karma to favor one's foes, or otherwise causing paradoxical difficulties.  The DM will have a sure method for adjudicating any questionable spell casting attempts.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Whitebox: Character Qualities

Characters select a quality at creation.  Qualities are independent of character class and ability scores.  It is wise to have a variety of qualities in the party.

Sulfur (Cardinal; Initiate and Begin) - Striker/Lurker“Omnipresent spirit of life"
Sulfur symbolizes offense and initiative.

  • FOCUS:  Start each encounter with Focus.  The first time you expend Focus in an encounter it is NOT expended/lost and you retain Focus.  Regain Focus only on a roll of "6" (not 5-6).
  • DAMAGE:  When you have Focus, deal +1 damage with all weapons.  This bonus increases to +2 at level 4, +3 at level 7, and +4 at level 10.  This bonus increases to +2 if attacking while mounted.
  • VICIOUS STRIKE (Expend Focus):  Gain +1d6 damage on your next attack.  This increases to 2d6 at level 4, 3d6 at level 7, and 4d6 at level 10.
  • MOUNTED & TWO HANDED WEAPON EXPERTISE (Expend Focus):  Roll twice for your next attack while mounted or for your next attack with a two handed weapon (not a polearm) and take the best result.
Salt (Fixed; Steady and Maintain) - Defender/Soldier“Fluid connection between the High and the Low”
Salt symbolizes a solid, fixed defensive approach.

  • BLOODY FOCUS:  Start each encounter without Focus.  The first time you take damage in any encounter, immediately gain focus.  Otherwise, regain Focus on a roll of 5-6
    • THICK SKIN:  When you have Focus, gain +1 AC and +1 to Saving Throws.  This bonus increases to +2 AC/+2 Saving Throws if using a shield.
    • HIT POINTS:  Gain +1 HP per HD.
  • IMPENETRABLE DEFENSES (Expend Focus):  Gain a +1d6 bonus to AC and Saving Throws until the start of your next turn.  This bonus increases to 1d6+1 if using a shield.
  • TAUNT (Expend Focus, Rider):  You may use this at the same time as Impenetrable Defenses.  Any foes in melee with you must attack you if it attacks this round (save to negate).
  • PIKE EXPERTISE (Expend Focus):  Roll twice for your next attack with a polearm and take the best result.

Quicksilver (Mutable; Transition and Destruction) - Skirmisher
Quicksilver represents fluid, changeable, and flexible tactics as well as destruction.
  • LATE FOCUS:  Regain Focus on a roll of 4-6.
  • ACCURATE:  When you have focus, gain +2 Base Hit Bonus (i.e. To Hit).
  • NIMBLE:  When you have focus, gain +2 AC against any Attack of Opportunity (if your game uses AoO).
  • PRECISE STRIKE:  Expend Focus to roll an attack twice and take the better result.  If you have not yet moved this round, you may make a move before, after, or during the strike which does not count as a charge.
  • BLADED EXPERTISE (Expend Focus):  Roll twice for your next attack with a one-handed sword or dagger and take the best result.
VARIANT:  If you are not playing with "Focus," then simply make the fixed benefit permanent and eliminate the burst benefits attained by expending Focus.

Behind the Scenes:

The three qualities are set up in a "rock paper scissors" style:  Salt trumps Sulfur, Quicksilver trumps Salt, and Sulfur trumps Quicksilver (Sulfur < Salt < Quicksilver < Sulfur).  For example, Sulfur's bonus damage is negated by Salt's bonus HP and robust defenses.  Quicksilver's accurate attacks can tear through Salt's thick skin.  Sulfur's bonus damage cuts through quicksilver's weak defenses.

To borrow a 4E paradigm, "Sulfur" characters are strikers or lurkers, dealing massive spikes of damage.  "Salt" characters are defenders or soldier-types, and "Quicksilver" characters are skirmishers.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Whitebox: Focus

One thing I love about White Box is that it is very free form.  One thing I dislike about White Box is that it is very free form.  It can be difficult to adjudicate exactly what a special action should be, what the odds of success look like, and what the consequences of failure are.

Enter the Focus mechanic.  Focus is binary; you either have it, or you don't.  There is no tracking of "points" or anything other than "focused" vs. "not-focused."  It is a renewable resource, and characters can be expected to have it a few times each encounter.  Focus can be expended for one of several effects.

Gaining and Regaining Focus:  Characters roll 1d6 each round.  On a roll of 5-6 focus is regained.  Most characters do not begin combat with Focus.  Focus is binary:  characters either have it, or they don't.  Thus it is impossible to gain multiple "points" of Focus.

Maintaining Focus:  If Focused, characters gain +1 to hit and +2 to saving throws (only use this rule if "Quality" is not used).
DM Trick Option:  If this is too hard to keep track of, give all characters +1 to hit and +2 to saves, and impose penalties if unfocused.

NPCs and Focus:  Only significant NPCs with names or special monsters have Focus.  Henchmen do not have Focus but their lieges may expend Focus on their behalf.

Expending Focus - Crazy Stunts:  Characters expend Focus to try an unusual, risky, or non-standard maneuver and be assured of a reasonable chance of survival.  In general, when using Focus, the consequences of failure should be limited to a modest amount of damage (1d6, perhaps with a save to avoid), wasting the round, or so on.  The chances of success should also be reasonable, perhaps around a coin toss.
For example, say a character wants to vault out of a second story window onto a horse's back with the princess to make a daring escape.  Without Focus, there is obviously a risk of taking 2d6 or 3d6 damage if the attempt fails.  With Focus, the character should have a reasonable chance to succeed (perhaps 3 to 4 out of 6, +1 if they have high DEX) with failure resulting in but 1d6 damage (save for none).
Maybe a character wants to jury rig a zip line across a long lava-filled crevasse.  Normally failure would result in instant death.  With Focus, failure might mean that the character ends up clinging to the side of the cliff or burned from noxious vapors but not instantly dead.
 In another example, a character may want to slide down a banister, vault onto a chandelier, and strike someone across the room with a sword in a dramatic display of swashbucklery.  Obviously a strict reading of the rules makes it tough to adjudicate this and success is very unlikely.  With expenditure of Focus, the DM should assign a reasonable probability of success and just say that the attack misses and the character swings around helplessly clinging to the chandelier if the attempt fails.
Expending Focus - Tactical Bonuses:  The intent for Focus is to allow players to try new and exciting things and take risks, not just to gain simple mechanical bonuses, but some groups may opt to use Focus for a slight increase in tactical flexibility and options.

In more conventional uses, characters might claim a small bonus to hit (no more than +2), a bonus to damage (roll twice and take best result), a bonus to AC for a round (+2), a bonus to saves for one round (+2), a bonus to grit and stamina (ignore 1 HP per HD damage for one round), or so on if it makes sense for the tactical situation and is narrated appropriately.  The list of appropriate "routine" uses is limited by the DM's discretion.

Optionally, focus is used by other sub-systems.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Whitebox: Tempo & Milestones


The purpose of "tempo" is to provide the basis for further subsystems which will ultimately replace Vancian-style magic.  It is specifically designed to offer more options and resource management for advanced players but to provide equal power levels for newer or less skilled players.

Tempo: Tempo measures the sophistication of a character's "bag of tricks." In general, new players (i.e., beginners) should start with low tempo scores ("slow fuses" or "low nova"). Advanced players should begin with moderate to high tempo ("fast fuse" or "super-nova").  You can think of it as the character's "metabolism" or pace.  Neither a fast (high) or slow (low) tempo is not necessarily strictly better or worse.  Low tempos will actually get more resources/special opportunities over the course of a full quest.  Choose one of the following ways to implement this score.

Action Points:  A generic mechanic which can be used with baseline White Box rules (or just about any other D&D system)


Tempo as a Derivative of Intelligence (w/ Advanced Group): Utilize the character's Intelligence score for Tempo. Convert the 3-18 INT score to a modifier per the following conversions: 0-1 (1), 3-5 (2), 6-8 (3), 9-12 (4), 13-15 (5), 16-18 (6), 19-21 (7). Using this option, the DM should consider allowing Intelligence scores to be increased over the course of the campaign or supplying items which increase the derived Technique attribute as player skill improves.
VARIANT (WIS FOR MU):  DMs may want to consider using WIS to determine "Tempo" for Magic Users, as INT is already important for them.  This is to spread out the importance of different ability scores.
VARIANT (DEX/CHA/CON):  DMs may want to select one of the non-class related scores such as CHA, DEX, or CON so as to avoid giving any class a built-in advantage.   These scores already tend to be relatively important for all characters, however. 
PROs:  Uses existing ability scores, turns INT into more than a dump stat
CONs:  Random, which means that technique score may not map nicely to player skill; magic-users have built in advantage unless variant is used.

Tempo as a function of Level (w/ Basic Group):  The Character's Tempo score equals their level (maximum of 7).  If the campaign will proceed to higher levels, consider spreading out technique increases to scale smoothly with level.
PROs:  Simple, allows character complexity to grow with player skill over a campaign
CONs:  Forces advanced players to go at slower pace with new players; all characters have similar resource expenditure curves and resource management issues/capabilities
Tempo as a unique and player-chosen attribute (w/ Mixed Group):  Allow the player to select a Tempo score, which is its own separate ability score.  New players should start with lower scores (ex, 2).  Experienced players should start with higher scores (ex, 6).  Players with moderate experience should begin with a moderate score (ex, 4).VARIANT (ROLL):  Add a new score and determine technique randomly.  Allow new players to decrease it, or experienced players to increase it.

PROs:  All tempo scores are theoretically equal in power so this gives players the ability to play the style of resource management they enjoy. 
CONs:  May not feel "old school," adds another attribute/ability score to the traditional "Big Six."


Starting a Quest.  At the start of each quest or adventure, the character gains a number of Action Points equal to their Tempo score.

  • Carry Over:  Points cannot be carried over from a previous adventure or quest.  Excess points from previous quests are lost.
  • Henchmen:  Subtract "1" from this initial pool of points for every Henchman (but not "red shirt" hireling) in the character's employ who is actively engaged in the adventure.

Gaining Action Points.  Action Points are gained at Milestones.  At a milestone, each player rolls 1d6.  If the die is equal to or greater than the tempo score, the character gains +1 Action Point.  The DM should allow around 8+/-2 milestones over the course of a typical adventure.
Behind the Scenes:  After the sixth milestone, all characters can expect to have gained 7 total Action Points.  This is the "breakeven point."  If there are fewer milestones than six, then high tempo characters have a double advantage over low tempo characters (they get more points and get them sooner).  At 8 milestones, a tempo 2 character can expect to have almost 9 action points, a tempo 4 character will have 8, and a tempo 6-7 character 7 points.  At 10 milestones, tempo 1-2 characters can expect to gain about 2.66 more Action Points over the course of the adventure than their tempo 6 counterparts, which is the largest spread likely advisable.

  • Traditional Approach:  The simplest way to award milestones in a traditional campaign is to treat each night of rest when spellcasters recover spells as a milestone for all characters.  In this case, the DM can expect each quest to take 1-2 weeks, and characters to undertake around 1-2 intense combat encounters per day (i.e. short adventuring days).  This is not unlike traditional white box; a low to mid level party with but a handful of spells and very limited HP does not lend itself to long adventuring days!
  • Story-Based Game:  Many DMs and groups want a faster moving game driven by a story or plot arc.  In that case, the DM should provide milestones as rewards for achieving objectives along the way to a quest goal.  In a story-driven game, the DM could break each quest arc into two or three acts, and provide around 3 milestones per act (1d6-1 milestones per act for 3 acts, 1d6 milestones per act for 2 acts).  That likely means one milestone for every scene or two.  An act is likely equivalent to a typical gaming session.
  • Hybrid:  A hybrid approach would be to award milestones for achieving signifcant plot objectives, for a full day of rest in the field or a night of rest in an inn, or as part of treasure/loot rewards.


In the simplest variant, characters expend an action point to reroll any die roll.

DMs may also allow a character to expend an action point to gain a +1 bonus to saves, AC, hit, or damage. This benefit lasts until the next milestone.

The D20 SRD gives a list of ideas which are generally appropriate if the DM desires expanded choices for action point usage.  Further sub-systems will give ideas for how to use Action Points.

NPCs and Action Points

Generally monsters do not have Action Points or use Milestones.  At the DM's option, certain "elite" NPCs (generally those with names) may have a limited number of action points available for use.  PCs should be able to expend Action Points on behalf of henchmen, but henchmen do not gain their own repository of points.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Whitebox and Septimus

I'm putting plans for Septimus, my own stand-alone game system, on hold.

Instead I am going to work on a series of interlinking house rules for White Box.

I think this is more usable for a wider audience and easier for me to implement myself.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Finding a Group

Our recent visit with out-of-town friends highlighted some of the difficulties in finding a group as a young professional to game with.

Our last "meatspace" gaming experience got terminated when we found that one of the players was a felon.

My ideal qualifications for a meatspace game and its participants would be:

  • Not a convicted felon.
  • 21+
  • Stable employment, understanding of issues associated with having a real job
  • Reasonable amount of time dedicated to hobby (i.e. 1-2 weekends a month tops for people busy with jobs)
  • Mature and responsible individuals who I wouldn't mind associating with in other contexts
My college gaming group was great and it would be nice to find other folks with similar interests.  The problem seems to be that obscure board games like Settlers as well as table top RPGs attract an... odd assortment of players.  I'm at a stage in my life where I don't want to deal with felons, drop outs, and people with severe hygenie/social issues.  I'd even be willing to compromise on game played, system used, campaign theme, modules played, etc to find a decent group.

Sadly it just seems that either the player base is odd or my standards are unreasonable due to having such a positive experience back in college with a core group of decent folks.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mind Sub-System: Simple Machines

I'm still toying with ideas for a sub-system for characters that harness the power of human ingenuity.

I actually came up with an idea that I rather like:  Simple Machines.

There are five or six simple machines from history which were described in the Classical age and commonly referred to in the Renaissance (depending on what account you use).

Archimedes described the first three around the third century BC:
  • Lever
  • Pulley
  • Screw
Heron of Alexandria adds two more in the first century AD:
  • Windlass (aka Wheel & Axle)
  • Wedge
Finally, in the Renaissance, a Flemish engineer added one more:
  • Inclined plane (added later)
I rather like using these as the basis for a subsystem.  I think they have the right "flavor" or feel to them.  I see a few challenges.

Appropriate Tokens:  I am not aware of any game which uses these items as tokens, or any set of tokens that would work right off the bat.  There are a few solutions.  Obviously you could make a set of cards or just have a list with the current inventory checked.  I like tangible items for the subsystem, however.  Hands on tokens also allow players to imagine possibilities more easily.  So, instead I think I would make a trip to a hardware or craft store and pick up a few items.
  • Lever:  You need a board and a fulcrum for this.  
  • Pulley:  We need, at a minimum, a rope/belt and at least one axle.  A spool (as for thread) and a string or rubber band should work just fine.
  • Screw:  Easy.  Get a screw.
  • Windlass or Wheel and Axle:  A spool with a dowel or straw through it, or a bolt and flat washer type set up.
  • Wedge:  A small chisel should be easy enough to find.
  • Inclined Plane:  Also fairly easy.  Any triangular piece of wood, or a flat piece of wood that can be placed at angles.
I like the idea of these players actually having a literal bag of tools.  Put all of these bits of "junk" in a dice bag/crown whiskey bag/mini tool chest.  Dump them out on the table.  It'd be awesome!  It also lets everyone at the table visualize what is being done with the machines in non-standard applications.

Not Robbing Other Players:  One issue I have with the Thief in AD&D is that once you add the thief class, other players feel like they can't do things like search for traps (even via roleplay) as it is a "thief function."  Likewise, I do not want players to imagine that they can't do things like swing from a chandelier (basically a pully) or slide down a banister (inclined plane) or raise the anchor on a boat (windlass) just because they are from the wrong power source.

To mitigate that I would let folks with this power source do some unique and more powerful things.
  • "McGyver:"  Let the "mind" power characters use these simple machines even if reduced to improvised materials or no materials.  There is the extreme case of being stripped naked and thrown in a cell.  However, if I'd let a spirit character cast a playing card spell, or if a body character could invoke an aura or find a follower, then McGyver should be able to put together a simple machine out of chewing gum and bailing wire.  In such an extreme case the McGyver just finds overlooked materials that others would not or could not imagine being used.
  • Speed:  Let the "mind" characters construct and/or use these machines orders of magnitude more quickly.  Given enough time, anyone can assemble together a windlass that allows heavy loads (like adventurers or treasures) to be safely lowered up and down a sheer vertical mineshaft.  But only McGyver can do so in the midst of combat.  Each machine should probably have some sort of "instant" combat application as well.
  • Quality:  Anyone with common sense can probably put together a simple machine with a little mechanical advantage.  For example, a simple one rope/one axle pulley has a mechanical advantage of one (it just lets you change the direction of a force).  A somewhat more complex gun tackle has a mechanical advantage of two, basically doubling the work that can be done.  A complex threefold purchase pulley has a mechanical advantage of six.  Any Joe Schmoe can put together a machine with low mechanical advantage, but maybe it takes a specialist to get mechanical advantages of four, five, six, or better.
  • Chance of Failure:  A jerry-rigged device probably should have some sort of (substantial) chance of failure.  Maybe McGyver's machines are fool-proof!
Ultimately it is probably the ability to be exceptional at all of the above:  being able to quickly throw together a machine which works very well, is very reliable, using improvised or no special materials.  Such ingenuity would really be close to magical and would represent extremely creative human genius getting work done in the physical world.  It doesn't mean that other characters can't take time to improvise a lower quality machine, or slap together a shoddy piece of junk in a hurry, or spend time and money (materials) to "get it right."

Combat-specific applications:  In a fantasy adventure game with life-or-death stakes, these special powers  need to have a specific combat application as opposed to vague sorts of effects which can be discussed/negotiated out of combat.  I also like the idea of a combat trap or terrain modification.  The mechanical effect of the "combat application" or buff should be somewhat less than the effect of the other power sources.  However, the terrain effect should be potent.  Furthermore, if the terrain effect/trap is not triggered, then it should be recoverable.

    Purpose:  The point of a lever is to multiply force.  I push down with 15 lbs of force, 30, 45, 60, or 150 pounds go up.
    Combat Application:  A straightforward bonus to damage seems appropriate.  Do to understanding the masterful application of leverage, the player optimizes their weapon usage to maximize the force of their blows.  Forced movement might also work:  I step to the left three feet and throw a foe three yards away.
    Combat Terrain:  Simple damage dealing trap, using mechanical leverage to magnify the impact of a relatively small object.  This is the principle that some snares for small game work on.  Some other folks have written about levers as a trigger device for many traps.  Alternatively, could be used as a super crowbar type thing to break open barriers/doors.
    Purpose:  The basic point of a pulley is to redirect force.  I pull sideways and something goes up.  At a more complex level, block and tackle systems multiply that force AND redirect it.
    Combat Application:  This is a sort of mechanical jiu-jitsu.  Allow the character to redirect incoming blows and avoid damage.
    Combat  Terrain:   The classic net trap!  When triggered, everyone in the net is scooped up and into the air (or in another direction, depending on where the pulley is).
    Purpose:  Screws convert rotational force to linear force.  Screws have often been used to fasten items together.
    Combat Application:  Screws prevent things from moving.  So perhaps the player can "fasten" their character to anything else:  they can lock their feet to the floor and prevent being swept away by an avalanche, pin themselves to a foe and stay locked in mortal combat, etc.
    Combat  Terrain:   Attach two objects together.  Or, a trap, that when triggered, sticks the victim to that spot.
    Purpose:  A windlass transfers or focuses force, generally with a lot of motion on the outside wheel and a lot of force on the smaller inside axle.
    Combat Application:  Sacrifice movement for attack bonuses.  Or, sacrifice attacks for movement bonuses.
    Combat  Terrain:  Wheels can be used for timing or resetting a mechanism.  For timing, imagine a gear that clicks along until a trap is triggered or reset.  For resetting, imagine a wheel turned by water, gravity (say, a heavy weight on a rope pulling it around).  So, I would let this be used in conjunction with another mechanism/terrain to both time and reset it for multiple uses once triggered.  I.E. as a "complex machine" featuring multiple simple machines.
    Purpose:  Wedges convert force in one direction to force in perpendicular directions.  Wedges are often used for splitting objects (axes) or stopping them (door stops).
    Combat Application:  Gain bonus to armor penetration.
    Combat  Terrain :  Super doorstop.  Place to lock a door solidly in place.
    Purpose: Inclined planes raise and lower loads by spreading out work over distance and/or time.  
    Combat Application:  I like the idea of spreading out some sort of unpleasant consequence or task over time.  For example, delay taking a hit or paying some sort of cost.  Another option might be to let someone take a double turn but then run a risk of losing future turn(s).
    Combat  Terrain:   Make difficult terrain easier to pass over.  Put a slide over a steep drop off or slope, allowing rapid but safe descent.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Gaming Weekend!

My best friend from college came down to visit for a little vacation and we were able to dust off some games.  It was great to get a chance to play old favorites and some new ones as well.

We discovered Seven Wonders, which is a fun and fast card-based resource game without the hatred inspired by Settlers of Cataan.  We also played Empire Builder, which is a substantially slower but still fun railroad game.

I also introduced Swords and Wizardry White Box and we played a short adventure.  It was a lot of fun and it was probably the first time we've gamed with someone else for about three years.

Overall it was great to see an old friend and to do some gaming.  We had a great time.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mind Sub-system: Wonders of the World

I'm still alive (despite the lack of posting) -- just been very busy with work and other matters.  I've still been putting some brain bytes towards a good game sub-system for characters based on the mechanical arts or "mind."  I've got an idea I'll post now and another which is percolating and will come in a bit.

Why not use the Wonders of the World?  What better symbol than the ultimate achievement of man's engineering prowess?

  • Great Pyramid of Giza 
  • Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  • Temple of Artemis
  • Statue of Zeus
  • Mausoleum at Helicarnassus
  • Colossus of Rhodes
  • Lighthouse of Alexandria

Pros:  There are seven.  This means that one can be allocated for each of the seven classical planets and mechanical arts.

Cons:  There are seven, so this removes the ability to use the Wonders as a theme for a game.  There also aren't any obvious tokens which can be used.  You'd have to use some sort of custom token.  The wonders also have a lot of baggage and/or vague meanings.  Finally, unlike the playing cards in particular, they are hard to combine for additional complexity (suit + numbers).