Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tinkering with NWPs

I was thinking about Non-Weapon Proficiencies this week. I'm not a fan, as written. We used the shit out of them, but I never really liked them. They are too restrictive/narrow, especially when leveraged against the slots you have available for them. Plus, I was never happy with the idea that there were no clear guidelines on trying something covered by the NWP when your character didn't have the NWP. Finally, there was an odd side-effect of that: your character went from being virtually unable to perform a certain task (NWP), to performing it very reliably (if the relevant stat was high enough), with a single NWP slot expenditure.

So, I had this idea. Not strictly original, but still . . .

  • Keep the lists divided by class, as they are.
  • There are no additional costs for "cross-class" NWPs.
  • Redefine the NWPs to make them broader in application.
  • Each additional slot devoted to an NWP beyond the first, grants a +1 to the roll.
  • If a task seems reasonable for someone with training, then no roll should normally be required.

The Mechanic

Roll d20+stat mod (from NWP table)+class level (if NWP is from your class list) +/- situational mods

If the modified roll is 20+, the check succeeds. So, it's basically a Target20 type thing.

Here's what I like about it:

  1. Your character gets better at NWPs that are important to his class as he levels. He doesn't start out great at it and only improve slightly.
  2. If it isn't on your class list you won't be as good at it as a character who should be better at it. I don't like the idea that your fighter can spend slots on Magecraft (even if it is at double cost) and automatically be comparable in that skill to my magic user (assuming your fighter has a high INT).

Untrained Use

There should be certain of the NWPs that aren't usable untrained. The remainder of the NWPs can be used untrained. In this case, if the NWP is on the character's class list, add the relevant stat mod, otherwise, the only mods are situational.

There it is, my big idea.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

[S]ine [N]omine: Scarlet Heroes

My friend, Rick, had his own campaign world. It was one of those things that was in development before he found D&D. Needless to say, it was deep and rich some 25 years later. It was its own thing. Rick bent D&D to his world, rather than his world to D&D. One thing I learned from many adventures in Rick's world: never, and I mean NEVER, fuck with anybody that was travelling alone. I called it the Rule of One, and much to my honor, it became a permanent part of the lore of his world.

The thing is, it can be hard to run games with 1 DM and 1 player. Far too often, they end up being one PC and a retinue of NPCs that the DM determines vital to success. The flip-side is a game that really is one character, but it means running from a lot of encounters. Neither is very satisfying.

Enter . . .

From the brilliant and prolific mind of Kevin Crawford, aka Sine Nomine, Scarlet Heroes offers a method for invoking the Rule of One in your games.

Scarlet Heroes starts with a chassis of B/X D&D. Sort of. It feels an awful lot like B/X, but when you get into the nuts and bolts it bears more of a philosophical resemblance than an actual one. It has the traditional six stats we all know and love. It has the B/X bonus scheme. It has the "core four" classes. The main four races are represented, as well as the Shou from the included setting. So far very B/X.

Now, here's where we start shifting our perceptions, because that is all that is really going on here. We still have hit dice, hit points, and weapons doing variable damage. You can take any D&D weapon not already on the equipment list and drop it right in. The difference is in how the numbers are used in Scarlet Heroes. For foes, monsters and mook-types, hit dice are hit points. So, a bandit can take one hit. A garden variety zombie, 2 points of damage. PCs have normal hit points and important/legendary foes may have hit points, as well.

Damage is determined differently, too. Weapons are still listed with their traditional damage ranges, 1d8 for a long sword, for example. However, rather than simply rolling and deducting that number from an opponent's hit points/hit dice, the roll is checked on a damage table. Thus:

This little table, and the damage dynamic that it applies to, is at the heart of what makes Scarlet Heroes sing. The other thing that really makes it work is the Fray Die. I love the Fray Die. It is a free damage roll PCs make every round, just because it is dangerous to stand too close to them. How awesome is that?

So, that small shift in the perception of hit dice/points and damage is pretty much the foundation that all the rest sits upon. There are other changes that essentially amount to making PC's better able to function alone. Traits add a skill-like element that can be used to mimic certain class-like abilities. There is a Defy Death roll which players can make when they reach an impasse that their character isn't able to handle. It becomes more difficult and dangerous every time the player relies on it to get the character out of a jam, though.

Scarlet Heroes is a complete game in and of itself. It includes everything you need to play, including monsters, magic items, and a taste of the Red Tide setting. There is also an extensive chapter on creating adventures, which includes a good-sized list of adventure tags, which are used in the construction of adventures. There is also a nice section on truly solo gaming, no GM needed.

I want to say one other thing about this before I wrap this up. This doesn't get mentioned much in any of the things I've read about Scarlet Heroes. The spell lists are totally awesome. They are loaded with new spells and new twists on old spells. He provides great, very evocative new names for all the spells. Some of them are really unique and could make a separate supplement of their own.

PS I forgot to mention, the system is suitable as is for one or two PCs. More than that and it gets too easy. However, it is a fine system in its own right, and by simply using hit dice/points and damage in the traditional manner, it could serve as a wonderful vehicle for a group of PCs.

A Teaser (and we know how those go)

The release of issue #1 of The Sandbox from Sine Nomine has me totally jazzed for Mr Crawford's work for the nth time. My gaming ADD drags me away from it as readily as it drags me to it. The plain truth is that Sine Nomine's line covers all the bases I like in gaming: fantasy with Scarlet Heroes, Red Tide, and An Echo, Resounding. Of course, he has sci-fi covered in spades, including Darkness Visible, which also covers the espionage genre. Then there is Other Dust, which scratches my post apoc itch. There is also a number of free supplements for these titles. In short, if my ADD would leave me the hell alone, I could happily spend all of my gaming time with Sine Nomine titles and products.

Recently I binge printed most of my Sine Nomine pdfs. Very soon I'll finish up the ones I missed. So, it is my hope (I won't use the "plan" word) to be able to write at least a brief post about all of them. I'll head each post title with [S]ine [N]omine, so that if these titles aren't your cup of tea, you'll know what's coming.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Free from Sine Nomine

I've mentioned Sine Nomine in a post about Stars Without Number. What I haven't mentioned is just how impressed I am with Mr Crawford's work, both in quantity and quality. Well, he has struck again.

Now he is producing his own free e-zine. This inaugural issue is 15 pages. It has a very nice wrap-around cover. Articles include a new class for Scarlet Heroes, two one-roll generators, one for backwater spaceports and one for abandoned structures. There is also a rather lengthy article detailing the development timetable of Sine Nomine kickstarter projects. All in all this looks to be a very useful addition to the Sine Nomine line.

One small suggestion, though. The layout of Sine Nomine products is very functional. Nothing fancy, no background textures or sidebar art pieces. This is very much appreciated for its printer friendliness. However, title spaces, section headers, chapter titles, and the like typically have the name header followed by a sort of subtitle. The subtitle is white in a black background:

That's not very printer friendly. It doesn't matter if I send it out to be printed, but if you do it at home, all that black ink adds up. And believe me, you'll be wanting to print all of Sine Nomine's stuff. It's that good.

Monday, January 26, 2015

More Cyclopean Ruins

I remembered this morning there was a supplement of weird spells. These seem like a pretty good fit for what I'm trying to shoot for here, but not necessarily a good fit for DCC. Obviously this idea is still in its infancy, with no way of knowing in which direction it will develop. Anyway . . .

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cyclopean Ruins

Almost two weeks ago I posted a query concerning Numenera. My interest in that book has cooled somewhat, but not the quote that I shared in that post.

I simply can not shake the image of a small band traversing a flat, windswept landscape. The wind howls, pulling at their cloaks as they clutch them desperately around their bodies. The light is failing, and in its twilight seems somehow thin, washed out. They arrive at a cliff face, not more than 10-12' high, curving away to either side, fading into the wan light.

They quickly negotiate that smooth face, gaining its summit. Continuing on their course, a short time later they arrive at a precipice. The lip curves away, behind them this time, symmetrical and smooth, lost in the gathering darkness. One of them takes a tube from a fold in his cloak and places it to one of his eyes. Instantly the distance shrinks before him and he can gaze upon far vistas as if they were at arm's length. There at the edge of his extended vision, he sees another precipice. This one, while curving beyond the limits of his vision, is marked by deep indentations, uniformly spaced and consistent in their depth. They march along the edge of that far cliff, fading from sight.

The view of this scene pulls back, revealing the group to be standing on a giant gear.

So, here is my idea: a post-apocalyptic fantasy set among the cyclopean ruins of an advanced previous civilization. The system I think would be suit my vision? Well, this is a weird, bleak, somewhat hopeless, blend of fantasy with a dash of sci-fi post apoc. It is over-the-top in-your-face balls-to-the-wall and a lot of other hyphenated descriptors. So, naturally, I'm thinking DCC.

Spell Lists

So, I'm thinking. We have colleges of magic that provide a handy way to "channel" magic users onto a particular path to power. We have clerical domains which define a cleric's deific proclivities. Didn't spell lists do that back in the misty ages of yore? At least sort of.

Look at the Illusionist. I'm too lazy to go rooting about for more examples. If you read this blog, you already know. You may not agree with my assumptions, but you know that there are a multitude of unique spell lists fine-tuned for specific classes. I believe that spell lists were an early effort to "univeralize" at least one aspect of AD&D. Second edition took the colleges of magic established in 1st edition and used them as a tool for defining "subclasses" of magic users. It extended the concept to clerics with the notion of Domains.

Now, I want to make clear: I think it was a good direction. Unfortunately, the more one-size-fits-all a thing gets, the more likely it is to not fit quite right. There may be a certain group of spells that a class should be able to cast, but they belong in a category with spells that have no place in the class concept. Perhaps you want a class to have limited spell casting, not just categorically, but in absolute variety, as well. That is where individualized spell lists come in.

With individualized spell lists running hither and yon throughout a campaign, the question becomes "Can my magic user learn/use spells from a subclass' spell list?" My personal answer to that is "Sort of". My ruling would be that a character could learn from another's spell list if it is of a compatible type of casting, clerical or arcane. If that condition is met, then the character has to research the spell, essentially converting the spell into a format they can utilize. The character would receive a bonus to his research attempt should he have access to a spell book containing the spell, or expert instruction from a caster who knows the spell.

I'm thinking more and more about implementing limited spell lists for certain classes, or ones less limited but still unique, a la the illusionist. I'm not dead set against rangers or paladins having some spell-like abilities, I just feel more comfortable with the idea that they have a much narrower selection. In my mind it makes it easier to view them more as magical abilities, rather than spells. I hate to paint it this way, but I will: they are like Daily Powers. There, I said it.