Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hmmm. HMMMM.

I spent most of my free time this past week combing through Jason Vey's Spellcraft and Swordplay.

A D&D offshoot, the game has a lot of marvelous ideas, but there is one little thing that especially stood out to me: A character's chance to hit is not determined by class and level, but rather by what weapon is being used against which armor. Class and level just give more attacks, not a greater chance to hit. "Armor Class" isn't a measure of an armor stat or anything like it is in every familiar D&D version... it's just a stand-in for armor type. It might as well be "Armor Class Plate," "Armor Class Chain," etc, instead of numbers. All of the monsters' attacks are assigned a weapon type as well, and their armor classes map to the same ACs the PCs use. This fixes the major goof of AD&D 1E - the weapon versus AC type charts are utterly useless when dealing with monsters instead of NPCs.

In addition to passing along errors I'd spotted, I also had a lot of game design questions (or "differences," or "suggestions," heh), and I started thinking of a way to use this with my other ideas I've had lately. I've never been entirely happy with D&D's combat mechanic, as I believe the abstraction of the system makes it impossible to say exactly what real actions are taking place until the final swing (really, you can roll a 20 to hit, roll maximum damage, and never actually touch the guy; it's just that his luck is running out)... and not only is it never considered this way during play, but the fact that missile fire is run the same way but isn't abstracted (one roll to-hit is one arrow fired)... ay ay ay. Vey's system doesn't solve "the missile weapon problem" but I do believe aids in making the abstracted combat system feel abstract.

But my mind began to work and twist, as it often does. Combine this with Wednesday's post, I scratched up some notes for a D&D-ish variant.

Standard six ability scores, using the BECMI penalty/bonus scheme. I can't figure out how to prevent Intelligence and Wisdom from being dump stats though (I have a ton of ideas about what to do about Charisma... been reading too much Dying Earth to leave it to die).

Four alignments:

Pious (character has been baptised), Heathen (character believes in a pantheon of anthropomorphic gods), Fae (believes "magic" is just part of nature), Infernal (character's soul is, justly or not, damned). Every character must pick an alignment, although animals have no alignment.

Each alignment will give it certain powers against supernatural elements of other alignments. A 0-level pious commoner could "turn" Odin, for example.

Three PC races: Human (the only things on Earth unable to sense the Fae), Elf (can not touch iron or steel, invisible to men), and Dwarf (unable to stand sunlight).

Three classes: Fighter, Spell-Caster, Outlaw. Magic is basic D&D-style, but spell-casters have completely different spell lists depending on their alignment, with absolutely no overlap ( Read and Detect Magic become class powers rather than spells)... and most of the damage-dealing combat spells go under the Infernal spell list...

Combat... taking the idea from S&S, but reconstructing the weapon-versus-AC table to greatly expand the weapons, include monster attack and armor types as unique entries (rather than calling a monster's bite a dagger or sword for purposes of the chart), re-doing all the actual chart numbers of course, and using a d20 (rather than 2d6 as S&S does). All damage and hit dice are d6s, as per OD&D. The first of a character's attacks that hits in a round does d6 damage, every additional attack that hits just increases the damage by one point. "Light" weapons roll 2d6 and take the lower number for damage, "heavy" weapons do the same but take the higher number (that from here).

This would mean that the entire monster roster would have to be re-written from scratch, and the weapons and armor on the equipment list need to be chosen carefully, and that's where the bulk of the detail and time would need to go. Otherwise though, the rest of the rules would be standard. The easy thing to do would be to just copy-and-paste large swaths of BFRPG or Labyrinth Lord, but even though they've declared pretty much all their text "Open Content," I bet I'd catch some shit for it. :D

So then there's the question of what to do with such a thing. The writer in me wants to design a setting as part of this idea to really hammer home what I intend the alignment system to mean as far as gameplay, but in all honesty it's a quick pastiche I came up with after reading a couple of books. The smart thing to do would be to just put the rules out there and let the referee make his own setting assumptions. This is a key point, as modern game design will point to the setting and the meaning of the rules as being the definition of the game itself, whereas traditional game design realizes that's too intrusive and the meaning is given through individual interpretation and game play by the local group, not the hoity-toity game designer. It's a pretty big divide, I think.


  1. As I'd mentioned in response to your previous post, their are remarkable similarities in things we both are working on.

    One of our differences is invisibility for elves as PCs ... if humans can't see them, then how would a mixed party of player characters interact with each other?

    On another note, I find it interesting 0-level characters could ward off the king of the Norse Pantheon. This insinuates much about the what you are doing here - and I did read that you were toying with a Christian based religious theme. I think there's a reason it hasn't been done before - something like discussing either politics or religion in a bar - and I applaud you for considering it. If you make it available to the masses, be ready for hate mail though ... lol.

    Your deceptively simple yet carefully worded idea on alignments is just that - deceptive and brilliantly old school, to me. There could be so many levels of depth in interpretation/role playing!

    As for your breakdown of the classes, we are again on the same page, however, I took a slightly different take on them that I'll soon outline on my blog.

    Combat resolution has been a mixed bag of emotions for me ... On one hand I like the matrices, on the other I want an easy system that doesn't slow down the game. I 'm leaning toward a d20 system, as in BFRPG, however I am going to take a closer look at S&S, as your description of it also has an appeal.

    All in all, keep doin' what you do. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to its continuation.



  2. >>One of our differences is invisibility for elves as PCs ... if humans can't see them, then how would a mixed party of player characters interact with each other?

    ... they wouldn't. :D

    Well... I'm mixed on this. I don't believe as a standard that humans should start with "witch sight" as that discounts many possibilities right out of the gate. But I have a feeling that would be handwaved by 100% of anyone else that would try running this so what would be the point?

    I don't see how mixed alignment groups would really work either, but that's probably less of a point of contention.

    By the way, this whole premise is such a rip that I might as well call it "The Broken Sword: The RPG" at this point... but the courteous antagonism of Eyes of the Overworld and The Princess Bride... must be in as well. And seduction rules at the drop of a Charisma check...

    >>On another note, I find it interesting 0-level characters could ward off the king of the Norse Pantheon. This insinuates much about the what you are doing here - and I did read that you were toying with a Christian based religious theme.

    The idea was once again ripped from The Broken Sword, and definitely would need to be refined. My 2006-7 AD&D campaign worked with similar ideas, with the monotheistic Church of All draining power from other religions as it spread.

    In game terms, the idea screams for balance - certainly I don't intend to make a "Christian RPG." One of the fascinating things about The Broken Sword is the book focuses on the elf vs troll war, with the whole sense that the entire thing, all the despair and pain and tragedy inherent in any war, is all pointless because it's the End of An Age and a new power is rising in the world. They're already marginalized and forced to live at the edge of the world, and it seems that they're only killing and dying now for the privilege of being the last ones finally swept away by the new power.

    I don't think that would work if I used "religious substitutes."

  3. I know this isn't the right post for this comment, but hey, no one else is posting here. Anyways ... so I'm also on the forums and I've noticed something weird about fans of the new editions. One weird thing is that they have an Orwellian take on D&D history, where D&D was always just about fighting things (and nothing else), and always used miniatures, and so on. But what is weirder in my eyes is that what is celebrated as good gameplay used to be bad gameplay. If your players just cared about fighting things and were always obsessing over how to get one more point of damage I would have said that they were bad players (and would have quickly done something stupid and gotten themselves killed). And if your game was just one unavoidable fight after another I would have said that was a bad game. And now things seem to be the other way around. Thoughts?

  4. Wow, I love every bit of this.

    For me, I would use it to run a historical fantasy game, D&D: Dark Ages or some such.

    And the idea of peasants being able to ward off gods doesn't seem strange to me. That's what hearth magic was all about--draw a white circle or hammer some iron nails into your door and not even the King of Fae Folk could pass through.