Monday, April 27, 2015

The Man Without Fear

I've been a fan of Daredevil since 1981...since before I knew what a ninja was. But that was when I picked up my first Daredevil comic (#175)...a story about a blind dude who could kick a lot of ass while relying on his other four senses...and for the record, I'm being literal here. Issue #175 comes at a point in Daredevil's career where his "radar sense" has been temporarily removed so he IS really, effectively blind (rather than have the 360 degree sensory perception that usually makes him so badass)...yet he doesn't let his "new blindness" stop him from continuing to go after the bad guys. He truly is The Man Without Fear.

Personally, I have always been a man WITH a lot of fear...real confidence is not something that has come easily to me, and self-doubt has plagued me throughout my life. Oh, I've been assertive when I've needed to be...mainly as a matter of necessity...and I can speak and act with authority in areas where I have cultivated expertise. Oh, and I'm stubborn as hell a lot of the time, which can sometimes look like ballsy-ness. But I've never felt myself to be especially courageous or brave...usually the opposite. Over the years I've had to find ways to mentally "trick myself" in order to get up the guts to do things, ways to ignore what it is I'm afraid of so that I can act without stopping myself. Similar to the way Arthur Dent learned to fly by perfecting the art of "throwing himself at the ground and missing."

I'm not saying this to be self-deprecating; I'm just explaining one of the things I've always admired about Daredevil. He's got a certain tough-mindedness to him that, sure, a lot of "low-powered" comic book heroes have...but despite the Green Arrows and Batmans out there, Daredevil stands (for me) as one of the more realistic masked vigilante-types. After all, it's not like he's some billionaire playboy with a death wish.

[Batman and Green Arrow are, unfortunately, a product of their origins as pulp action adventurers. It's not their fault they started out as playboy was a trope of their time, allowing them access to wealth and secret bases and high-tech gadgets. But still: wouldn't they be able to do more good for the "common man" by being wealthy philanthropists instead of beating the hell out of muggers? Their stubborn adherence to "crime-fighting" in the 21st century just makes them delusional, Don Quixotic-types, if not outright jokes. One of the reasons I find Batman '66 so excellent is that, like the 60s television show that inspired it, it doesn't take itself seriously and is very light-hearted]

Daredevil does what he can, on a scale that he can, in his own neighborhood. He's like some psychotic, ultimate NIMBY. His tragic childhood loss, and subsequent career choice, make so much more sense to me than Bruce Wayne. He at least tries to do good as a low-cost attorney for the poor folk of Hell's Kitchen...I've known people like that. Real people...idealists who are fighting an uphill battle. And doing it anyway. With all the money at Wayne's disposal, the best thing he could think to do was come up with a bunch of bat-themed toys? Not to mention his interest in "young wards."

[again...product of his original times. I should go easy on the old man. He IS my son's favorite superhero, after all]

So Daredevil is recognizable (to me). He has a lot of human frailty...and not just his "handicap" of blindness. He gets beaten and bleeds. He has screwed up relationships. He has his "Catholic guilt" thing. He has ideals that just can't be met with the way the world is and with the limited resources he possesses.

He ends up suffering a lot. I've always admired the suffering hero. I've always enjoyed watching the way the suffering hero gets up from a beating time and again. It's not some inherent sadism in me...I want to see how a person can endure. I want to see how they define themselves by their endurance. The greater the suffering, the greater the enduring, the greater the hero.

As said, I've never been very brave, myself. But I've always had a great will to endure. And I'd like to think that gives me a bit of heroism...I think most of us would like to see at least a little "hero stuff" inside ourselves. We'd all love to have the super powers of Captain Marvel: say "SHAZAM!" and become super smart, super strong, super fast, etc. I know I would. But realistically, Daredevil is about the best to which we can aspire: the ability to rise after getting knocked to the ground.

SO...Netflix new series, Daredevil. I started watching it Saturday night, and I've gotten through the first seven episodes (man, I love being able to do that with those Netflix series...still need to finish up House of Cards). Great, great show. Live-action superheroes on the scale of "TV show" don't always work...that is, they have difficulty balancing the demands of the medium while being true to their original medium (usually they fall short on one side of the balance). If Daredevil is lacking, it's a little less comic-booky than the comic book...the horned costume has yet to make an appearance, and there hasn't been a single masked super villain (though, honestly, who gives a rip about Stilt-Man?).

He's not this heavy in the show.
But it's hard to say Daredevil is "lacking." It's great, compelling television. The first episode was a little had to include a lot of the mandatory "backstory" stuff. But the second episode ("Cut Man") was a heart-ripper...just truly, truly excellent stuff. And everything since then has been great.

Some highlights regarding the casting:

Vincent D'Onofrio is a guy whose work (i.e. acting working) I've enjoyed for years: from The Player to The Blood of Heroes to The Whole Wide World to Full Metal Jacket to Ed Wood. He is fantastic as Wilson Fisk ("the Kingpin"). Part of this is the writing...the character is so well-written, so likable even in his menace, that I find myself rooting for him, even though he's the main antagonist of the show (like Swearinger in Deadwood, or Spacey's character in House of Cards). He's understated, and powerful, and'll notice that he's first guy I bring up, even though he doesn't actually appear in the series until episode 3 or 4. He's a spotlight character, and while he's the master manipulator behind the scenes, there's nothing hidden about him by the writers...there's no secret agenda that we're waiting for the show to "reveal" to us in some long drawn-out fashion (one of the reasons I stopped watching Arrow was that I got tired of the flashback "reveals" of the protagonist's backstory). I love seeing the subplot with Vanessa. He's awesome.

Eldon Henson (as "Foggy" Nelson) is an actor with whom I'm not familiar, and part of my initial "slow" reaction to the series might have been getting used to his interpretation of Foggy, Murdoch's geeky friend and law partner. However, by the second episode I was sold on the character, both as written and performed. This Foggy...quirky, confident, and upbeat...makes an excellent compliment to the blind lawyer's understated, somewhat Sad Sack demeanor. If Foggy was written to be the bumbling, pessimistic guy I remember from the comics, it would be "too much the same." Henson is great.

Vondie Curtis-Hall (as Ben Urich) is fantastic, and again really well-written; the character is richer and more nuanced than the tired trope of "tough investigative journalist," Jack McGee-type that this could have been. I find Curtis-Hall to be magnetic, and his scenes a lot of fun to watch...the "newspaper guy" scenes aren't just throwaway bits for exposition as in most superhero-genre shows, and (unlike those other shows) I don't find myself counting the seconds till the camera cuts away to 'more interesting' stuff. He is interesting, and I want to see more.

Which brings me to a notable point. Curtis-Hall is an African-American actor, making Urich's character a black man (different from the caucasian comic book character)...though I actually had to look that up to remember. This Netflix series is chock-full of juicy roles for actors of all races and ethnicities, and considering its New York City, this is a welcome change...the place looks like New York, and sounds like it, too. It is filled with people whose native language is not English (my wife asked me why I was watching the show in Spanish...I had to explain to her that it's NOT in Spanish, just that many of the characters...both major and minor, speak Spanish as a matter of course), and despite being "street-level supers" it has a very international feel. Organized crime cuts across all cultures, after all.

Rosario Dawson (as Claire Temple) and Deborah Ann Woll (as Karen Page) are good, though I wouldn't call them especial standouts. I mean, Dawson is talented and beautiful and does her "normal" level of work; I find it hard to distinguish Woll terribly from her very memorable role in HBO's True Blood. Both suffer a bit of the O-I'm-A-Damsel-In-Distress-But-Still-Show-Signs-Of-Being-A-Capable-Human-Being syndrome that we see a lot of in the Old Comics Rebooted category of television. However, Claire (who was a romantic interest of Luke Cage/Power Man in the comics) figures to feature prominently in future (planned) Marvel Netflix series. It's possible that Cage is already part of her (Daredevil) character's backstory.

It's been fun to see Turk make an appearance...I'm hoping to see Grotto in one of these episodes.

Scott Glenn is the perfect (perhaps only possible) choice for Stick. I love Glenn in this kind of role...when I saw the casting choice I thought it excellent and he didn't disappoint.

Finally, we come to the man himself, Charlie Cox, as Matt Murdoch/Daredevil. Great, great casting choice. His Murdoch isn't just spot on, he fills out the stiff shirt of the superhero's alter ego. So often (well, at least back when I was reading comics in the 80s) you see heroes only truly express themselves while in their masked personas: their loves, their passions, their personalities. Their egos are suppressed when dressed as their secret identities, pretending to be something that they aren't (mild-mannered reporters, millionaire dilettantes, etc.). But so much of Daredevil is specifically due to who he is as Murdoch...his upbringing, his neighborhood, his line of work, his friends, his relationships. Elektra isn't someone Daredevil met while roof-hopping as a costumed vigilante...and the guy's not flying off to other galaxies in his DD-themed rocketship trying to save the Earth. Hell, he's not even traveling uptown. The "masked man" facet of Matt Murdoch is a minor aspect of the character as a whole, and the series treats it as such. There's no length expository given regarding his "radar sense;" the character doesn't sleep in some sort of sensory deprivation chamber. The focus the show (and Cox) brings to Murdoch the man is great.

It's not perfect. I haven't had a close relationship with any legally blind folks, so I can't speak too much to Cox's portrayal in this regard, but at times I feel the actor makes physical gestures that seem inconsistent with a person unable to see. That being said, the attention paid and attitude towards the character's blindness seems admirably done. Forget the superhero bit for a second...the show deals frankly with Murdoch's blindness, as the big deal it is. And not in terms of what he's lost, but in terms of how he lives, positively and undeterred. He lives in a different fashion from folks who can see (reading braille instead of print, for instance), but he's still living: with a job, an apartment, friends, lovers, relationships. The chemical heightened senses and ninja-training may give him the ability to be an ass-kicking machine...but it has jack and shit to do with the rest of his life. He's not portrayed as an "exceptional" blind person...and at the same time it's not ignored as a "non-issue" by the other characters in the show. I dig it.

And as to the ass-kicking: I dig that, too (of course). Some of the scenes are a little too dark for me (especially when it comes to catching the visuals of bouncing projectiles). Other scenes are truly exceptional. Again, I'd draw your attention to Episode 2 when...well, I don't even want to describe it; it really is too good to spoil. And it literally chokes me up just thinking about it (but then, I'm a sucker for certain types of on-screen mayhem). Do yourself a favor and watch it. I'm sorry that means you need to sit through the semi-slow start-up of Episode 1 (just to grasp the characters), but I think you'll be glad you did. Heck, I might just re-watch it again before hitting Episode 8.

In fact, I think I'll do that now. Later, gators.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Evening AT-ATs

The four year old wanted to build an Imperial walker before bed this evening. Even though we only had 40 minutes or so, who am I to gainsay him?

No...they don't actually make "Star Wars" Duplos.

Back view...a jail door is the troop hatch.

[if you pull the top off you can see the body is filled with various Lego knights and firefighters..."stormtroopers"...and the hollow tunnel of the neck leading to the cockpit head with its pilot and computer console]

Duplos...who says they're only for ages 3-5?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Poison and Ant-Man

[Saturday morning pop culture post]

I woke up at 3:30 in the morning because I'd had a dream that Bret Michaels and C.C. DeVille had died and it kind of freaked me out. I had to (foggily) check the internet to make sure they were still alive (they are). I don't know why this was so important to me...I am not now and never have been a fan of Poison or their music. But it was reassuring nonetheless.

Not as godawful as Warrant, but same ballpark...
It's like it's nice to know that there are some terrible things that exist in our world yet remain mostly harmless.

In other news...the new Star Wars trailer has been out for a while and people who care have probably already seen it multiple times. My own thought is that, while badass, it's jarring to see Harrison Ford in his original role...though I'm not sure if it's because of the age he currently sports, or because I've watched "Han Solo" so many hundreds of times over the years that it's weird to see him (again) at all.

[I'm also reminded that the Star Wars films have always been aimed at a younger audience (i.e. children) and wonder again what Abrams' film will look like in the final cut. Diego is VERY excited]

I'd say two thumbs up. But that's me.
What's more exciting (to me, anyway) is the latest Ant-Man trailer. As I mentioned previously, I've always liked Ant-Man (much more so than some of Marvel's other, low-powered Hawkeye), and this thing keeps looking cooler and cooler. Check it out! It shows so much more promise than DC's latest offering-to-be (sorry).

Okay, that's it. The weekend's on. Wish there was some baseball to watch.

[oh, wait...just caught the first episode of the new Daredevil Netflix series...but I'll save that for another post. I like Ant-Man, but Daredevil's in the Top 5]

Friday, April 24, 2015

Crazy Train

Now where was I...oh, right: going off the rails.

The last couple days have been spent mostly researching ancient history, and the pseudo-science "archaeological" study of goofy, woo-woo lost cultures (like Atlantis). It would just be so useful if we had real, working time machines and an ability to go back and truly document ancient history (you know, when exactly did the dinosaurs die, who built the damn Giza pyramids, who was mining copper out of the Americas and exporting it to Eurasia to fuel the bronze age, etc.). I don't even need to go back and see Jesus healing lepers and such...just let me fly around the globe circa 9000 BCE and see what was going on. I promise I won't try to put modern Egyptologists out of business. Heck, I'll even agree to stay west of the Prime Meridian; I never had much interest in China anyway.

*sigh* So many people arguing so many crazy things on the internet. So much history tainted with bias and agendas. And so so soooo much of our history unknown. Radiocarbon dating isn't wholly  accurate, and our written material (what we can translate) just doesn't withstand the forces of entropy for more than a few centuries. Unless they're inscribed in gold, or other precious metal, that is...but then, such "books" of that type were likely melted down for ready cash long ago by folks who couldn't decipher them anyway. Or confiscated by the Vatican. Or whatever.

But you folks don't want to to hear about all that stuff...let's talk about games! of the purposes in writing the new fantasy heartbreaker (recall that I've already got a pseudo-heartbreaker under my belt with Five Ancient Kingdoms), was to get something down that was more like "Basic" D&D. Yes, funhouse-style gaming...though, now the specifics of the setting are starting to make this look like a long-term sandbox-style campaign setting. ANYway...part of getting back to "basics" was going back to those funny-shaped dice that D&D helped popularize...all those D8s, D4s, and D12s (not to mention D20s!). I wanted to make a game that people would recognize, even if it was a "little different."

Then I started looking at Star Wars.

Specifically Fantasy Flight Game's new Star Wars RPGs (Edge of Empire, Age of Rebellion, etc.). I could find surprisingly little posted on-line about these games (considering the production value and general popularity of the setting)...then again, I didn't spend time perusing the FFG forums. I know there are people playing it. I know there are even more people who simply own it (I want to own it...the artwork and production values are stunning!). The main knock people seem to have (and there aren't all that many negative reviews out there, please realize) is the proprietary dice required to play with their weird symbols (as opposed to numbers or pips).

Personally, I'm not terribly into a this kind of gimmick (says the guy who has special "zero dice" commissioned for sale with 5AK...hypocrite, much?). *AHEM* Personally, I am NOT really into this kind of gimmick when it leads to overly-complicated mechanics that are hard to decipher (how hard is it to read "zero" on a six-sided die? Not bloody-damn hard!), but the REASON behind it (to introduce narrative aspects into the standard mechanics of the game with a single simple dice roll) isn't a bad one. Just one that was kind of clunkily executed.

So I started brainstorming an easier way to do the same thing. And that's where my "basic" idea starts to fall apart.

See, one thing I really wanted to return to was the "roll D20" to hit, to save, to everything. People love those little 20-sided dice and I wanted to give 'em to them. There were three main mechanics in Moon, and all of them used a D20 mechanic. I was intending to keep these mechanics for the new iteration. But now...well, now it's going to be a "roll 2D10" instead.

Bell curves. Nerds like me who look at dice and percentages (well, and maybe some hard-core gamblers, too) know that rolling 2D10 is a lot different from rolling a D20 (and not just because 'you can't roll a 1'). When rolling a D20, each number (1-20) has an equal chance of being rolled (5%) and all "+"s and "-"s from, say, ability scores or level move the needle in simple increments of 5%.

2D10 is different. The percentage chance of rolling very high or very low is much smaller compared to numbers "in the middle." Which, when considering a "roll over target number" scenario (as is my basic mechanic), means easy rolls get easier to make, and harder rolls get harder.

Blah blah blah...what does that mean, JB? Let's look at a basic example: combat. Attack rolls versus armor class (though I'm not sure if I'm going to stick with the "AC" term in the final document). At the moment, you've got three basic target numbers when fighting an armored man:

10 (unarmored)
13 (light armor)
16 (heavy armor)

with a shield adding +1 to those numbers (11, 14, and 17, in other words).

Needing to "roll over" the target number to hit means a dice roll of 11+, 14+, or 17+ against non-shield wielding opponents. Since all PCs get at least a +1 to their attack roll (bonus is level-class-based), this means that, effectively, each character type needs to roll a result equal to the actual AC of the target to make a successful attack (for example, if the PC tries to damage a dude wearing heavy armor and a shield, she needs to roll 17, as 17+1 = 18). We can see that with a straight D20 roll the chance of success for each AC is:

10 (11) - 55% (50%)
13 (14) - 40% (35%)
16 (17) - 25% (20%)

With the bell curve of 2D10, this looks fairly different:

10 (11) - 64% (55%)
13 (14) - 36% (28%)
16 (17) - 15% (10%)

Armor becomes substantially more effective, and the +1 AC bonus from a shield makes a bigger difference...though with a diminishing "rate of return" (only a 5% bump if already wearing "heavy armor" - but you're basically forcing your 1st level opponent to roll the equivalent of a 19+ on a standard D20 to do damage).

Because of the bell curves, smaller adjustments (a +2 versus a +1) make a bigger difference. While at the "top end" (+5ish) it works out to be about the same success chance against hard difficulties as a D20 system, the success against easy target numbers is much the +10%-15% range. That's the equivalent of giving the D20 character an extra +2 or +3 against easy-medium targets without needing to resort to inflation of effectiveness by making sure everyone has more potent magic weapons (if sticking with the combat example). 

For DMs that don't want to clutter their campaigns with needless enchanted items (just for the sake of meeting expectations of character effectiveness) this is a bit of a godsend...and at the same time makes sure that the harder challenges remain appropriately hard (plate armor doesn't suddenly become useless unless upgraded to mithril, etc.).

Of course, that's just the effective outcome of switching from a D20 base to a 2D10 base for "stunt" rolls (what I call the action mechanic: attack stunts, magic stunts, and physical stunts). The whole reason for switching to a 2D10 mechanic was to enable me to create additional outcomes (similar to FFGs "advantage," "threat," "triumph," and "despair" results) at the same time as determining success/failure. Rolling two dice instead of one allows me to do this by allowing me to compare the results of each die separately (to its partner) in addition to examining the sum total of the roll.

At this point, I'm keeping it simple (it's supposed to be a "basic" game, right?) and just looking at "doubles" rolls (double 10, double 4, etc.) in relationship to two factors: whether or not the end result was a success-failure, and the character's level (I'm tempted to add a 3rd factor: a comparison based on class and type of stunt, but haven't developed the idea yet). Since doubles get rolled 1 in 10 times on a 2D10, that gives a 10% chance of "something interesting" happening on any particular stunt roll...not particularly over-whelming and not much different from saying a D20 roll of "20" is a "critical" and a roll of "1" is a "fumble." It just allows me to be a bit more nuanced with my effects.

SO...I've decided that I'm going to stick with it. The 2D10 thing instead of D20, that is. I realize this puts me outside the normal FHB model (again, jeez...just like what happened with 5AK), but I think the end result will better model what I want it to model.

Which is treasure hunting descendants of Atlantean colonists fighting the monstrous creations of older Atlantean migrations in the South American wilderness with orcichalcum spears and bronze armor, 11,000 years before present. Oh yeah...and sorcery, of course. Got to have sorcery.

More later.

A little too long in the jungle.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Happy Birthday, Sofia Jeanne!

3% power. That's what my computer's got at this very moment. Fairly reflective of my energy level, too.

Need to buy candles still...shit!
Hi! It's my daughter's birthday today (she just turned one), AND it's Tuesday (a busy day of the week here in Paraguay) so I've been running around a lot, rather than blogging. Sorry about that. All sorts of new, dumbshit traffic-driving stories to tell...I've probably written this a half dozen times already (I think it most every day here), but I'll write it one more time: in my town (Seattle), there's a saying that goes like this:

If everyone on the road appears to be driving like an asshole, maybe YOU are the asshole.

This phrase needs to be modified somewhat when living in Asuncion:

If everyone on the road appears to be driving like an asshole, maybe YOU are the asshole...or maybe you're just driving in Paraguay.

I fucking kid you not. Wife got T-boned just last week (she hadn't been in a traffic accident in a couple decades). I haven't yet...but then, I've learned not to trust anyone on the road. Ever. Even you're friends. 'Cause it's the Wild West down here.

[I say that semi-literally...after all, you're sometimes sharing the road with a horse-drawn wagon]

ANYway...apologies. Not just for the negativity. I had been planning to write about skill trees, but I am currently in one of those "back to the drawing board" stages of design. I had a brainstorm (not just a squall, mind you, but a full on tormenta) related to Star Wars (of all things) and, well, I'm currently crunching numbers to see how things might work.

Friggin' bell curves.

So, today was going to be light posting anyway, but now it's looking more like "non-existent" (except for this post). Plus, I need a nap.

More in a bit (probably). OH, WAIT...for those who like contests and missed it, this guy over here is doing some sort of RPG design challenge, where you need to write a game in 200 words or less. For all you, would-be designers out there, I'd suggest taking a stab (even if you don't actually mail in a submission) as a practical attempt at streamlining concepts under constraint. I know I'll give it a shot.

After my nap.
; )

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Magnificent Seven

What I really want to write about this morning is skill trees, but mine won't make much sense until I've had a chance to discuss classes in the new FHB.

[which reminds Game of Thrones last night went unseen due to the disgusting inability of my internet to stream shows (couldn't watch Mad Men, either). As such I'm irritated by the whole subject at the moment. Which means, Crowns of Blood stuff is on-hold, despite my original plans for today's posting]

All Basic editions of D&D have a pool of seven classes to draw from...the same seven classes actually. Well, all pre-1985 editions of Basic. They are, of course:


I read somewhere, once upon a time, that the average human brain has a rather easy time when it comes to holding grouped data where the data points number seven or less, but struggles when the number hits eight or more. This was a few years ago, and I don't remember where I heard it (maybe NPR when I still listened to that radio station?). But I remember thinking (at the time) that perhaps this is why the Basic classes of D&D are so easy to remember and regurgitate (along with their associated capabilities): that magic seven number.

Seven has always been a bit of a "mystic" number. In numerology, it represents the planet Neptune, and it's astrological meanings. Seven was the number of "celestial bodies" visible to the naked eye in ancient times (counting the Sun and Moon), from whence we get our seven days of the week. Seven is considered a "lucky number" by many folks. It is a number that fires the imagination.

Anyway...I didn't have seven classes in my Moon game (the prior iteration of my FHB) or either of Moon's prior incarnations. Instead all had three classes (the three classes being different in each) attempting to model archetypes with "sub-classifications" (i.e. specializations) under each basic class.

Of course, I wasn't using demihumans, which knocks out three of the four Basic D&D classes.

[for an example of what a JB "subclass" looks like, check out Five Ancient Kingdoms. A subclass (of which there are eight in 5AK) is the same as the main class, but simply loses one or two of their normal class abilities to gain a subclass specific ability. No new spell lists or major strictures of the druid or paladin type...just subtle variation]

Welp, the latest version is junking that and going back to something more basic. Well, more "Basic" anyway. It's got seven classes, classes that (somewhat) ape the original seven, though they don't include demihumans:

(Sorcerous) Dabbler

I figured I'd go ahead and list 'em all, and then explain my thought process here. Sorry for the ass-backwardness.

First off, in considering the setting (South America-ish) and premise (treasure hunting) of the game, I made a list of what classes I wanted to see at the table. Not which classes I thought should be part of the game, but what I wanted to see people play. While I could take a picture of my crummy, hand-written notes ad post it, it will be faster (and more legible) to simply type it out:

Sorcerer-Priest (the same...some more pious, some less)
Fighter-Knight (the same...some stouter than others)
War Priest (big guy with smiting ability)
Thief-Assassin (the same...just with different focus)
SpellSword (Lythande, Elric, etc.)
Hunter (the "halfling" class...primitives)
Illusionist (charlatans & rogues)

That's what I wrote...but as you can see I ended up with something a little different (and yet, not terribly so).

The hyphenated guys (sorcerer-priest, fighter-knight, and thief-assassin) were concepts that I envisioned as classes with two sides...not necessarily a coin with two sides but more of a sliding scale with (for example) sorcerer on one end and priest on the other. I saw the difference of side being more one of perspective...or perhaps one of opportunity (the "knight" being born a higher caste than the more mercenary "fighter"). I needed something that would allow the slide to take place between the two poles of these classes...and since I wanted to be consistent, I felt I would need to create similar poles for each.

There's some obvious re-skinning going on here. The "spell-sword" (a character that fights AND uses magic) is a pretty obvious "elf" re-skin (something I've been doing since waaaay back in 2009). The halfling has been rebranded specifically as a "hunter," which in the case of this setting is more of a "savage" or "barbarian" type (and no, they ain't short). The only odd-man out was the illusionist...made more odd by the fact that I still wanted to use the magic system I have from Moon which is really just a bunch of sorcerous spells of different flavors, none of which are really "illusionary."

O quickly you meet the axe outside of 1st edition AD&D. In my notes, the class is scribbled out, which happened pretty early in the brainstorming process.

Anyway...looking at my now six I started wondering where I was going to get a seventh (because I liked the idea of having this Magnificent Number), and realized I'd done no re-skin of dwarves. Of course, this was due in part to me hating dwarves lately. 'But if I did not hate dwarves,' JB asked himself, 'what would they look like? What archetypal place might they hold in a class system?'

This line of questioning led me to "spelunker" and from there to the Explorer class, named above. See how my brain works?

Then I let it all stew a bit in the setting that I was envisioning (a setting that I am still developing, mind you...currently it's progressed from circa 16th century South America to something 10,000 years earlier). I decided the War Priest was going to be something decidedly primitive in nature: a dude with a lot of feathers, animal hide or plant-skin armor, and a big war mace of some sort. This dude was not coming from the same "colonist" faction as the other conquistadors, but rather from the ranks of the indigenous people. And so he was lumped under the class heading Native along with the pre-funked "hunter" class as two ends of the sliding scale (between the tribal warrior and the tribal shaman-type).

It was game system that had me excise the "priest" side of the sorcerer-priest equation. I mean, I suppose they are still "sorcerer-priests," setting-wise, but the magic system necessitated different I really didn't want to include a "piety" stat (or ability score) that would really only be of use to one of seven classes.

One of seven? Wait a sec...I consolidated war priest and hunter so now I'm back down to six! But then, I still didn't really have any type of healer or "wise man" class. Some people think that lore master types are boring as shit, and (like sages) belong in a support role (back home), not traipsing off on adventures. I, on the other hand, always come back to the film Krull, and Freddie Jones portrayal of Ynyr "the Old One." This type of wandering mystic is exactly the kind of thing I prefer to the D&D "cleric" class.

I eat slayers for breakfast...with my muesli.
[remember when I mocked up a Krull campaign setting for B/X? Check out the "Wise One" class]

Plus, this type of hermit-dude gives me a chance to include another of my favorite archetypes: the solitary witch. Like Mr. Brannan, I am a sucker for the inclusion of a good witch archetype in any game I write-play. Creating an Outsider class allows me to include the witch on the opposite pole from the mystic. And now I'm back up to seven classes.

Let's see, have I covered everything? Knight-merc fell into the Fighter category; thief-assassin is in the Rogue classification (natch); Sorcerers have "adepts" and "eclectics," though that won't mean much to folks at this point.

Oh, yeah...the Dabbler. That's just the "spell-sword" renamed because, neat as that sounds, I didn't want any confusion with the "sell-sword" pole (that I later converted to "mercenary" anyway). Besides, I still needed two spectrum ends for my elf re-skin. Here's my thought: what really defines the spell-sword more than anything is that they know "a little magic." They dabble in it, but they don't pursue it with same single-mindedness of "real" sorcerers. In fantasy literature, they're too busy wandering around, killing people with swords, getting paid, brooding on their fate, etc. Elric may profess to be the greatest sorcerer of his time, but you rarely see him actually working magic (maybe once or twice per story)...he's pretty damn laissez faire about the whole magic thang. Grey Mouser likewise curtails his magic use (despite being raised by a magician)...though perhaps more so out of fear (respect?) or distaste for the art.

SO..."dabbler." The two poles I'm currently working with are "spell-sword" and "spell-thief," the latter of which may act as a stand-in for any type of illusionist/mountebank trickster-type character I'd like to see in the game. We'll see how that works out (it's all still a work in progress). now you've got my classes (and the thought process behind 'em). Now, I can talk about "skills" (which will be my method for sliding between the twin "poles" of each class).

Later, folks.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Big Six

As I look towards writing a "new" Fantasy Heartbreaker (or, more accurately, converting a conversion of a conversion), I find myself looking back at D&D editions over the years to see how ability scores were handled. Of course, I always start with OD&D (the Little Brown Books) because, well, that's where it all originates, yeah?

So in looking at the Big Six ability scores I notice something that I have (of course) noted in the past: namely that the Great Three Prime Requisites have absolutely zero effect on characters other than "rate of advancement" (i.e. XP gain). Which, just for the record, is no MINOR mechanical effect, BUT is really small potatoes compared to the mechanical effects of later editions and the incredible importance and weight these attributes carry. Things like attack and damage bonuses, number of spells known, and potential power limits of spell-casters.

I hate all that.

I especially hate the whole Strength bonus thang, not the least-wise because it got me into stupid trouble in the past. Nope, I hate it because The Game is soooo combat-oriented that it is just a matter of time before one's character gets embroiled in a melee and the importance of being able to hit and inflict damage gains life-and-death importance and thus becomes a paramount mechanical adjustment for ALL characters. When really, the only thing I want to use to model attacking ability is: A) character's training (class), and B) experience (level).

[there's also the issue of the resentment I've seen at the table due to the random strength roll. The fighter with the 13-15 STR, for instance, who looks at the cleric with the 16 STR and sees that healer is a better melee fighter for three levels of play, despite the focus of their careers. In reality, there have been plenty of small statured warriors who were better at inflicting damage with a single blow than incompetent, larger individuals. Ask any U.S. marine about that sometime!]

SO...since I wasn't planning on using Prime Requisites in the FHB, I thought I might simply DROP the whole stat from the character sheet. Just ix-nay the issue all together in a Gordion Knot kind of way. If there's no mechanical bonus to be derived from the attribute, why bother rolling the 3D6? Issue resolved.

Likewise, I figured I could do the same, axe-wise, with Intelligence and Wisdom. After all, I've decided to take a hint from folks like Alexis (and 3rd Edition Pendragon) and just realize that the whole "challenge" of not being able to speak another sentient's language isn't all that fun. Or rather, it detracts from an aspect of what IS fun: namely, being able to negotiate and bargain with potential allies and adversaries encountered. If a creature is sentient, it's going to speak the language of the region, not some weird "other tongue." Besides, do creatures with a split-tongue and a mouthful of fangs or tentacles really have the ability to form words like a "foreign human" would? It's all just fantasy, yo...let 'em talk "real people speak." Give 'em an accent, if it suits you.

So...axe, axe. The Lesser Three attributes were a different story. Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma have ALWAYS carried in-game mechanical bonuses: Dex adjusted missile attack rolls, Con adjusted rolled HPs (and "surviving adversity"), and Cha adjusted maximum number of hirelings and said hirelings loyalty base. Since I was trying to move away from ability scores adjusting combat rolls, I was pretty certain I wanted to cut Dexterity from the game.

IN ADDITION, I had to consider the "new" ability scores I'd dreamed up back in my last go around with this project: Agility (which had replaced DEX), Learning (which had replaced INT), Spirit (which is really its own thing), and Wit (which had...more or less...replaced WIS). Of these, I really only considered Spirit a "must have" really represents something new that I want. And Agility and Learning were tied to classes (and class abilities) that I've kind of decided to do away with. Oh...and I find myself hating Dex/Agility bonuses to Armor Class (whatever you call it in your game) these days. Just armor, folks. Just armor. Axe.

SO, I found that I only really had three ability scores I wanted to use in the new FHB:


But was I getting too far away from the roots of this fantasy adventure game?

The designer in me would say that such is an irrelevant question. BUT...even if I don't like the mechanical benefits derived from most of these ability scores, as simple NUMBERS, they still provide a ready, short-hand description of one's character. Something that could quickly identify (as in "create an identity") the words on the paper into an image in a player's mind. And those three by themselves, really aren't enough.

Then I came across GusL's abstract encumbrance mechanic based on Strength that I mentioned in my earlier post, and I realized that maybe there was a way to make a descriptive number of the stat useful without being mechanically overwhelming (i.e. by not being of benefit in combat, but of retaining a mechanical advantage for exploration, as described in the follow-up post). Strength added back. It also turns out that Wit, then, still proves useful for abstract accounting of items brought along (previously, I had thought I'd need to go back to old school, granular, encumbrance and resource accumulation to model the treasure acquisition that would be the focus of the new FHB iteration). All of a sudden, I was back up to five ability scores...and if I was going to get all "traditional" like that, why not just find a sixth to complete the batch.

GusL's "skill tree" system (my term not his)...which I have yet to blog about...convinced me to add back Learning, and develop my own similar system (it's not a super-original take...see both 1st edition Empire of the Petal Throne and World of Warcraft, but in a simplified way it adds a nice little variety). I haven't yet talked about "classes" (that's another post), but the return to "roguish" roots has meant that the heroic "everyone-gets-magic" idea has been dropped by the wayside. Acquired skills ("dabbling") puts a little bit of this back, and having a LRN stat models the characters who benefited from early education (its availability and/or their level of focus) over those who did not. Which I like.

OKAY: we've got Strength (for representing that strong back). We've got Learning (instead of "Intelligence"). We've got Wit (instead of "Wisdom"). We've got Spirit (my own, personal deal...but one that I really like). And we've got Constitution and Charisma, largely unchanged...

Wait a sec...Constitution? No, no...we can fold its traits (and mechanical bonus of +1 HP per level) into Strength. Back down to five.

So...still looking for that sixth trait apparently. And there's ol' Dexterity staring me in the face. I don't want Agility because (again) the game has moved away from the heroic swashbuckling I once envisioned (and the help of uber-AC bonuses I was...previously...going to provide).

[sorry Boris Vallejo hero-types...y'all need real armor in this version]

What the hell exactly was "dexterity" back in the days before it became the second most preferred combat stat (after strength)? Well, Gygax's description in Men & Magic states simply:
Dexterity applies to both manual speed and conjuration. It will indicate the character's missile ability and speed with actions such as firing first, getting off a spell, etc.
No chainmail bikins. DEX is speed only.
This is all very nice, but with the exception of missile fire (+1 to attack rolls for DEX >13, -1 for DEX <9) absolutely none of this is mechanically modeled within the OD&D books. Chainmail (the default combat system for OD&D) has no such "speed" rules in it; first attack in combat goes to the dude with the longer weapon or that is behind cover (like a castle wall), or else (if neither of those apply) then whoever attacked first (i.e. whose turn was it that decided to move into melee). It isn't till Holmes Basic, that DEX really starts to see the mechanical benefit as applied to "speed of action." In addition to the aforementioned missile fire adjustment (which remains the same in Holmes), melee combat is determined in order of descending DEX.

This inclusion of "melee speed" as part of dexterity's purview is a Holmesian addition, and not a terrible one. What I think is especially interesting is the part in Holmes where
if dexterities are within 1 or 2 points of each other a 6-sided die is rolled for each opponent and the higher score gains initiative - first blow.
Which is actually different from what is portrayed in Holmse's combat example (where Mogo the Mighty with DEX 9 simply strikes after the giant spider with DEX 10). I like the idea that two folks, close in natural "speed" ability have a more-or-less chance of getting their "go" before the other. Of course, I also like Arrowflight's spot rule that in cases of ties (with regard to speed) the guy with the lighter armor gets first go ( Arrowflight reference. That might be a first for this blog!). Yeah, probably some combination of all these is what I'm going for...

Aaand...I suppose that means dexterity is back in the game.

So there you have it...I went from "my own" five, up to six (with Charisma), down to three, back up six, almost all of which are the same as the original "Big Six" of D&D:

Learning (in place of Intelligence)
Wit (in place of Wisdom)

I'm not sure they'll appear in exactly that order (alphabetical makes a lot more sense, don't you think?) but that's where I am at the moment. Cue snickers and usual jibes about "reinventing wheels."

Just wait till I get to my post on the classes that are going to make an appearance.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

'hammer Musings

Huh. Just discovered Roger's A Life Full of Adventure blog, which is kind of crazy considering he's been around since 2008 and lists a host of shared game interests with Yours Truly, including D&D (B/X and 2E), WFRP (of the oldest variety), Blood Bowl (!), and Shadowrun.

I really need to get together with some of these guys (Steve C. and Mike Davison included) and do some sort of D&D-Warhammer mash-up. I know, I know...I've talked about this in the past and never brought anything to fruition. I'm BUSY, people! Anyway...

Huh. I can't believe I have only a single posting under the topic "Nurgle" (not counting my single post under the topic "Deathguard"). Might have to rectify that.


I don't want to say that I hate ignorance. It really, really irritates me, but "hate" is such a strong emotion, even for such an amorphous entity as ignorance. Hating ignorance itself, really just translates into hating the ignorant people that display it. And I really don't want to hate people (as individuals or groups).

No, I don't. But you know, I really hate ignorance.

And it's not like I know everything. I'm ignorant about a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff. I'm always finding new shit out. Even about games that I blather on about like some, say, Basic D&D. I've been playing the thing for 30+ years, I've been blogging and writing about it since June of 2009 (nearly six years!), and I'll still discover the occasional thing about which I'm ignorant.

[though admittedly, with regard to D&D, I'm a bit less ignorant than in other arenas of knowledge]

So I'M ignorant, too...about a great many things. And I prioritize what it is I want to enlighten myself about, just as everyone else does. I know a lot more about the current state of the NFL, for example, then the state of the NBA. I have a tiny smidgeon of knowledge about South American history, and effectively zero knowledge of Thailand or southeast Asia (other than that shitty bit of U.S. history involving armed conflict in the region). Do I hate myself for being ignorant? Do I hate myself for being selective about that which I choose to learn? No...but I'm sometimes disappointed or frustrated with myself, and folks might consider me a bit obsessive when it comes to researching things about which I find myself ignorant.

[this can be chalked up to a Scorpio Mercury in the 12th House, by the way...not everyone has that drive to know everything about everything]

So maybe I don't "hate" ignorance in others, either. Maybe I'm simply frustrated and disappointed she I see it. Like people who believe Fox News has even the slightest accuracy. Or that Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

[ is that bullshit going to be explained in schools in 2021?]

The internet is a wonderful place to learn stuff about which you're ignorant. It's also a fantastic place to get distracted for hours by stupid memes, dumb videos, and free porn. But even if you manage to avoid wasting too much time in idle surfing, your search for enlightenment can often be roadblocked by the conflicting opinions of various parties on the subject of study that you're pursuing. I suppose this might be slightly better than listening to a single professor giving his/her single opinion on a topic...but it really depends on the quality of teacher and the quality of school, no? I went to a pretty good school and received a fairly decent education (when I bothered to show up to class), and while the wikipedia is uber-convenient, there's something about studying a multitude of books from your local library that just seems to cover subjects in more depth. Not that the people of Paraguay have bothered to build any libraries in this damn country.

[oh, wait...they do have one: the Biblioteca Roosevelt. It's 69 years old, was named for the the 32nd president of the United States (FDR), and is part of the Centro Cultural Paraguayo Americano (the Paraguayan American Cultural Center). Huh...I wonder who's responsible for that? I should probably check it out, but it's located downtown, which is inconvenient for a number of reasons. Ah, well]

Anyway...I'm all for youthful fire being injected into all things old and crusty and having the cantankerous, conservatives give up their seats at the high table, but would it be too much to ask that they do at least a minimal amount to alleviate their ignorance? When I read about teenagers not knowing Cameron's Titanic film was based on an actual event, I get...well, irritated.

I'm sure there are plenty of intelligent young people out there who will help to make the world a better and brighter place. In fact, I know there are. But there's still a shit-ton of ignorance out there and a lot of folks (young and old) who just don't seem to care enough to educate themselves. Sorry for the ranty-ness; it depresses me at times.

Okay...back to gaming stuff.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Counting Coins (Part 2)

[continued from here; while the pertinent rules will be presented in this post, you might be interested in the motivation and basis for it (described in Part 1). Then again, maybe you aren't!]

Just to pick up where we left off, we had our three containers: the small sack, the backpack, and the large sack (yes, yes...we'll get to Jeff's treasure chests, too. Just not yet). In B/X terms they hold 200 coins, 400 coins, and 600 coins respectively. Since, in B/X:

10 coins of weight = 1 pound

we can happily convert these containers to units of "poundage:" 20 pounds for the small sack, 40 pounds for the backpack, and 60 pounds for the large sack.

It might be helpful to imagine exactly what these look like. A small sack is something that can be carried in one-hand, even by a spindly adventurer (when I was a fairly scrawny teenager working a summer gig at Kentucky Fried Chicken, I was routinely asked to carry 20# sacks of flour under each arm). The space age, ultra-light backpacks you find at REI these days have capacities up to 80 liters or so (180 pounds of water weight)...but they can measure liters because your back is likely to give out long before you put enough "weight" in to burst its frame and fabric. The primitive pack of D&D was probably based on something that looked like my father's (circa 1950's) wood frame and cloth, Boy Scout pack. Small, clunky, and painful compared to the ergonomic camping gear of the last 20-30 years. It's designed to be worn on the back (hence the name).

The 60# large sack (leather? burlap?) is designed to be carried over the shoulder, probably using two-hands. I picture something like this (or probably half-again as big):

Getting lighter every minute.
Anyway, these are our basic containers for carrying treasure. You can see that they break down into an easy ratio of 1-2-3. And it is from here we ( extrapolate our basic unit of measurement: the treasure unit. For my purposes:

20# of treasure = 1 treasure unit

So, a small sack holds one treasure unit, the backpack holds two, and the large sack holds three.

What exactly IS a treasure unit (besides its weight)? What's it's value? Well, I give it the same value as a small sack full of gold coins. No, not 200 gold coins...I've really gotten over the 10 coins to the pound thing (this happens when you do a bunch of research into silver marks and gold dihrams and other ancient currencies). No, I mean a sack of coins of the basic currency (whatever that is for your game world)...remember its all relative. For my purposes, I think Alexis's 7g Roman-era coins are perfectly reasonable. At 64 coins to the pound, that means one small sack (i.e. one "treasure unit") consists of 1280 coins. And if each of these "gold pieces" is worth 1 x.p. to your intrepid treasure-seeking adventurer, than you can say:

1 treasure unit = 1280 XP

"But JB," you cry, "This is madness! Are you saying a sack of gold is equal to a sack of silver is equal to a sack of gemstones?" Yes...with caveats. But let me come back to that in a moment. You're interrupting my train of thought!

The advancement scheme for your normal fighter class looks a bit like this:

Level 2: 2000 XP needed
Level 3: 4000 XP needed
Level 4: 8000 XP needed
Level 5: 16,000 XP needed
Level 6: 32,000 XP needed
Level 7: 64,000 XP needed

If we divide that up by 1280 XP we can find the number of treasure units needed to advance the character...oh, and here I'll be rounding UP when we have remainders (no fractions of treasure units!):

Level 2: 2 treasure units needed
Level 3: 4 treasure units needed
Level 4: 7 treasure units needed
Level 5: 13 treasure units needed
Level 6: 25 treasure units needed
Level 7: 50 treasure units needed
Level 8: 100 treasure units needed (if you double 64K, you get 128K, yeah? Look how easy that is!)

My game only goes up to 8th level because there aren't any domains being awarded to "name level" characters in my game...however, if you wanted to extrapolate, you could just add an extra 50 units per level after eight.

100 treasure units...2000 pounds (1 ton) of treasure. It can take you a long time to move that much wealth...especially if you multiply it by the number of characters in the adventuring party. Pulling that much treasure out of the ground can give you a nice, long campaign with plenty of adventure. And if you do "earn your ton," I can't see how your character could find herself wanting to do anything but retire and enjoy the fabulous life of luxury she's earned for herself and her descendants.

Now, back to your question: isn't some treasure "worth more" than others? Sure...but we're talking about convertible, spendable wealth. A bag of jewels will go farther (with a lot less effort) than one big jewel. And who's to say small or fragile items aren't likely to get misplaced, broken, and pilfered between their dungeon resting place and "wherever-it-is" that you want to take your items to convert it. And who's to say you'll get "fair market value" even should your cartage go off without a hitch?

Plus, consider this: adventurers in a dirty, dimly lit, and hazardous subterranean environment...fearful of being beset by monstrous foes at any moment...aren't going to get terribly caught up in sorting the dross from the treasure hoard. I picture much more of a "dump-your-rations-and-rake-in-as-much-as-your-pack-will-carry" approach to treasure gathering, not a careful sifting for platinum coins among the silver. Call the treasure unit an "average" of what is found and carted off.

HOWEVER: I would allow for some treasure units being more or less valuable. Just not on the scale of your usual D&D campaign; simply a "double value" treasure unit, or a "half value" treasure unit. I would also allow the occasional worn piece of jewelry or pocketed gemstone to be considered a half treasure unit (or even a "full" treasure unit for an extremely rare and valuable piece...think the Eye of the Serpent in the film Conan). BUT as a basic rule, if it's not portable, it ain't spendable.

Worth a full treasure unit...though hard to split up.
You found a golden throne that took 12 guys to carry out of the dungeon? Who cares? Unless you know of a shop that deals in giant, golden thrones, you're not going to get anything out of it until you break it up, melt it down, pry out the gemstones, and/or otherwise reduce it to a portable form...a standard treasure unit form. Bags of cash, in other words.

Hey, it's what the conquistadors did.

Now as for how much one can carry...well that brings us back to the encumbrance question. In Holmes Basic, a character is considered "heavily loaded" (with a halved movement rate) when carrying 60# of treasure in addition to their normal adventuring equipment (including armor). AD&D is more specific (and granular) giving a reduced movement for up to 70# (all equipment and treasure) or halved movement at 105# (again, for everything). However, AD&D gives a bonus for high strength (up to +75# for 18, the highest possible for non-fighter characters).

Moldvay Basic is a bit more generous and more granular going up to 160# for everyone (high strength is not considered). However, anything over 80# of combined treasure and equipment QUARTERS movement, effectively slowing the character to a crawl...maybe a stagger.

All three systems give a range of unencumbered movement of 30# to 40# (30# being for Holmes Basic which doesn't count the PC's "standard gear"...30# of treasure weight in other words). Personally, I like the Holmes bit about PCs being used to their own adventuring gear and only worrying about treasure...however, I also like Gygaxian "strong backs carry more treasure" thing. As such, here's how I factor encumbrance:

Normal gear +1 treasure unit = Unencumbered (12" or "normal" movement)
Gear +2 treasure units = Light Load (9")
Gear +3 treasure units = Heavy Load (6" or half movement)
Gear +6 treasure units = Staggering Load (3" or quarter-movement)

For every point of Strength over 12, add +1 to treasure units that can be carried. A character can dump their normal gear (though still retaining armor and maybe a weapon or two) to carry one extra treasure unit.

Characters can combine their treasure allowance to carry really heavy items, like Jeff's treasure chests. Just to sum up these, here's how they measure out in my game:

Small coffer/strong box = small sack (1 treasure unit), though more durable
Medium chest = 10 treasure units. Such a container can be carried by two individuals working together, or by one (fairly strong) individual.
Large chest = 20 treasure units. These are really a four-man job (like carrying something the size of a coffin).

Note that since treasure units can be converted to weight (in 20# increments) it's easy to figure how hard it is to carry, say, a fallen comrade or other bulky, non-standard item.

Last note (since this is running long again): lest you think your iron-thewed, 1st level barbarian is going to come out of the dungeon with two large sacks and a backpack full of treasure and advance to  4th level, keep in mind the following limitations:

  • There's still a limit to how much treasure is found at an adventure site (as determined by the DM).
  • Treasure units found must still be divided between the characters (and if a bag of treasure is divided too far between henchmen, there may not be enough for advancement).
  • Characters are still limited to a maximum level gain of one per adventure (standard B/X rule) regardless of how much treasure is brought out at once. 

Even so, a dragon hoard (average treasure valued at 50,000gp in standard B/X), could be worth a staggering 39-40 treasure units. That's a big haul to divide amongst such a bold group of adventurers.

All right...that really is enough for now.

[oh, wait - one more thing! some folks might be wondering how to figure XP for defeating monsters if you're measuring advancement in "treasure units" recovered instead of individual points? Short answer: you don't. I've decided XP will only be gained from treasure recovery. More on this later!]

Counting Coins (Part 1)

I've been wanting to write this post since Friday. Unfortunately, I figured that I should probably write a couple-three other posts first in order to "set the stage" for my ideas. But, well, spending the last two days solid on taxes (just got 'em e-filed at 1am this morning, thank you very much) has pushed back all my posting...and anyway, now I've got money on the brain.

[speaking of push-backed posts: still have returned to the Crowns of Blood series and Game of Thrones just started up least in South America. Haven't had a chance to watch it yet...maybe later today...but I'm sure it'll inspire me to get back to my hack of Pendragon]

One of the things I'm doing these days with my designs is to abstract equipment/items, cutting out that particular "hard aspect" of resource management. This is something that's been evolving for me over the last several years. It started a while back with my B/X play when I created basic equipment lists for each class based on a player's 3D6 roll for "starting gold" (I was kind of tired of low-income characters blowing their wad on plate mail and having nothing left over for standard adventuring equipment). A large part of this was in aid of speeding the chargen process: hand the player a card, cross-reference the number rolled and then note your starting possessions. It worked fairly well.

Later, when working up my DMI (card-based) game system, I was even more abstract...the cards dealt to players determined their "important characteristics" (I think I use a different term in the rules, but I don't want to look it up right now), and diamonds dealt to the character's hand represented any kind of important "resources," including special equipment. It was very non-specific, but (without going into too much detail), say you were playing my DMI "supers" game: a character like the Hulk would probably have no diamonds dealt to him (because the Hulk doesn't use equipment), whereas a Batman-type guy would have lots of diamonds to represent the shtick he pulls out of his bat-belt or his various vehicles and Bat Cave and whatnot. The "items" the diamonds represent might change from session to session (just as the specific gear ol' Batman uses changes from adventure to adventure) but the basis of his powers (lots of goodies/gadgets) doesn't change. A Reed Richards type might have a single (big) diamond in his hand to represent the one Earth-shaking invention Mr. Fantastic pulls out of his stretchy brain every few comics.

ANYway...abstract. But not very Old School.

Cry Dark B/X-based "Shadowrun" style game (which has since morphed into something much more post-apocalyptic) was a return to B/X gear-counting sensibilities. You had "New Dollars" (or whatever) to spend instead of gold, and you were picking up similar NDs from adventures instead of D&D-type treasure...such ca$h being used to provide all the upgrades to your adventurer that you'd expect in an Old School-type game (instead of magic items you're upgrading your automatic weapons and cybernetic-implants, etc. Spell research remains largely the same). Very resource-based in the traditional sense.

However, a funny thing happened during play-testing: I observed (and other groups, too) that players weren't really interested in "bullet-counting." Or worrying about how many hours of juice was in a particular piece of gear. The resource management of individual equipment items was a real secondary concern (if that!) to the slam-bang action of blazing away in cinematic fashion. As opposed to aiding the immersion, forcing players to track every nuanced resource was breaking their immersive process. Asking a sniper character's player what type of ammunition he was going to use for a long shot, he replied "the best one." The granularity of gear wasn't as important to the action at hand. And away, who am I to say how much a bionic limb costs in a futuristic economy?

Plus chargen for a game like CDF takes a shit-long time if players are buying their own gear...there's simply too much, compared to the short lists of D&D.

So when I started revising CDF I figured a way to abstract gear selection. CDF was reworked as a class-based system (with classes determining the character's available suite of cybernetic gear), and then a choice of equipment based on the character's Intelligence (INT) score, such picks being limited when it comes to "expensive" selections from the gear list.

Because no matter how rich characters get, the kind of "missions" they go on in CDF only allows them to carry so much gear anyway. And tying that gear to INT helps to model a lot of real world "inconveniences" in an abstract fashion. Gear that a person forgot to bring (even though he meant to and even laid it out on the table the night before). Gear that's batteries died, or that suffered a break in transport to the drop site. Gear that hasn't been well-maintained due to laziness or ineptitude. Gear that's been misplaced or stolen or sold for food between adventures. Gear that gets brought along but that the character forgets he has in his pocket/pack. Gear that just mysteriously breaks or stops working because you're living in a post-apocalyptic region where resources are scarce to fix or repair've got to prioritize what's important. INT determines the absolute number of "useful" pieces of equipment the character has for a particular session...and yes, the number is modified by the character's level of experience (because experienced adventurers are more prepared...duh).

[characters automatically start with a couple weapons regardless of INT, of course, because those are your livelihood and necessary survival tools and I know you're maintaining those without me having to ask]

The most recent stab at a "new" fantasy heartbreaker (which is currently being revised...see last post) uses a similar "useful item" system, except that it's based on an ability score called Wit (because there are seriously learned wizard-types who are a little too addled/befuddled to remember to pack the tinderbox). Now this was fine when my FHB was about heroic heroes doing heroic things and not worrying about finding treasure (they had a much "grander quest" to accomplish). But with the recent one of conquest and colonization in a Brave New World...there's a need to account for coin counting and the collection of goodies. After all, in a fantasy adventure game based on treasure hunting, counting treasure is the way we count points.

"JB, you're losing me," says one of my readers. "I can see simplifying gear selection (maybe), but why does that create any issue with acquiring treasure (and counting it) in the 'normal' fashion? You find 2000 shiny gold doubloons, and you get 2000 big deal, right?" Um, sure, except there's the little part about encumbrance to consider, another thing I intend to abstract.

[see, this is why I needed to log earlier topics BEFORE starting this one]

While I haven't (yet) written about it, I had all but decided to axe STRENGTH as an ability score from the list of abilities describing characters. The multiple reasons will be dealt with in soon-to-be-forthcoming post. But then I got hipped to this post from GusL (remember me talking about him?) on using a super-simple abstract method of counting encumbrance which, while not perfect, is the perfect complement to my abstract gear-selection-process. Because while "what you remembered to bring along" might be set by the limits of your character's Wit, what you find (and pick up) along the way is not.

But THAT is actually putting the cart before the horse. I've been thinking a lot about treasure lately (being in the presence of a lot of real world treasure does that), and then I stumbled across this year-old post from Alexis...

[I can almost hear him yelling at me to leave him the fuck out of my abstract B.S. schemes. Sorry, pal]

...and its precursor prompt post from John Arendt (just for reference; not nearly as pertinent). It's really not a new's something I was blogging about waaaay back in 2010. While Alexis's post points to a different issue (how much treasure monsters have in relation to each other), he rightly points out that the system is fundamentally arbitrary (numbers of value...both for character advancement and for cost of in-world largely subjective). Combined with this earlier post of his...and, yeah, throw in this excellent one, too, on gemstones...and you start to get an idea of where my brain is headed: abstract treasure accounting.

This one's a fancy piece.
[just BTW, Alexis's posts on gems...see here and here...went a long way towards explaining my befuddlement at the rinky-dinkness of medieval jewelry. I've been to a lot of museums over in Bavaria, Prague, Spain, Italy, France...and seen a lot of crowns and tiaras and bracelets and whatnot that looked like so much battered costume jewelry. Granted, many pieces were hundreds of years old, the precious metal bent and dinged, but what really disappointed me were the gemstones set in the pieces. They didn't LOOK like gems (at least, to my UNeducated historical mind) but rather like polished, shiny stones. They were not cut, you see, and were probably plenty valuable for their luster and color and rarity. I was expecting cut gems (like something from, oh say, an illustration in one of my gaming books) rather than colorful smooth circles of what could have been "pretty glass." The lighting in the museums probably didn't help much]

Part of this also has to do with my research into the history of South America's conquest (much of what might have been deemed "treasure hunting" as well). The thing is this: not only is the value of treasure arbitrary and fully modifiable in terms of it's game worth (i.e. what amount of treasure constitutes enough XP to "level up"), but it is of relative value in the game world as well. It doesn't matter that a gemstone is "worth 500 g.p." if my character has no way to determine, nor collect the value. So what if I find a platinum and ruby-studed crown worth 50,000 gold...who will be willing (and able!) to buy such a thing? It's doubtful the local "gem-changer" has 2.5 tons (the D&D weight of 50K coins) of gold sitting in his back room, waiting for such a piece to come along.

It's been an acceptable statement for years that adventurers would much prefer precious items like gems and jewelry over sacks of coins. But sacks of coins are readily spent, easily converted to real goods, easy to divide amongst companions. There's no need to find reliable (competent and honest) appraisers or fences for the loot. There's no need to know kings who MIGHT have access to stacks of coins and be interested in acquiring such items (the wealth of the nobility is mainly tied to their land...and who's to say an unscrupulous lord wouldn't consider treasure found within his domain to be his "by right" and simply take it?). If I want to buy a horse, I can probably get one for a ruby...but I might not get exact change in the bargain.

[and when the local tax man comes a-calling, what are you going to pay him with if all you picked up was a fancy silver bracelet? Your magic boots?]

Treasure is treasure is treasure. Some is more valuable, some is less, but in a primitive society that doesn't have, say, a global economy like ours with auction houses (on-line and off) and plenty of extremely wealthy folks keeping an eye out for desirable stuff...well, you may just be better off with a sack of silver or gold. At least you won't be much worse off than the guy with a sack of "the good stuff." we come back to encumbrance. We have three basic containers in D&D, with (per B/X) an extremely easy measure of how much each holds:

Small sack: 20 pounds of treasure
Backpack: 40 pounds of treasure
Large sack: 60 pounds of treasure

Nice easy numbers, which will be the basis for a whole new method of treasure accounting, encumbrance, and (drum roll, please) experience point acquisition and advancement.

All of which will be laid out in Part 2 (since this post is getting long).

Friday, April 10, 2015

15 Minutes to Blog

It is 5:46pm my time. In (roughly) fifteen minutes, hell will more or less break lose in my home as one-half the help leaves and I am left managing my small children with one less person and no mother coming home tonight. "Cry me a river," says the single parents living in the USA that can't afford the kind of childcare that small money buys in Paraguay. I know that. I'm not saying I'm suffering terribly...just that what is a "non-usual" situation for me and my family creates (some) discomfort. And that my writing time is limited.

(11 minutes to go)

Probably people think I've been futzing around the last so-many odd hours since my last post. Or doing taxes. Or have run out of inspiration after so many thousands of words pumped out in recent days. Nope...that's not it. Well, maybe the "futzing around" part...but that's what I might (deprecatingly) call my "research." I've just been slogging through the internet you know. Today spent several hours intensely researching the conquest ("colonization" if you want to use the Wikipedia term) of South America. The Pizarro's were assholes (as were the Portuguese), and they took up entirely too much of my time...I really don't care much about what's west of Argentina or north of the Brazil's southern border.

Mostly I've been spending time catching up on Paraguayan history (which I haven't done for a few months since first coming down here). It's depressing as shit.

(7 minutes)

Other than real world history, I've been reading blogs, blogs, blogs. A lot of Tao. A lot of Hill Cantons. A few others. Old Dragon magazine articles by Ed Greenwood (as suggested by HC), and MAR Barker essays (and commentary on same in other blogs). Because I'm doing fucking-A world building.

Which I hate and which is daunting and which I'd like to do right for a change.

Because the FHB I was working on waaaay back in the September-November months (you can check previous blog posts labeled under Moon) is getting an overhaul. Because (and I'll explain this in a future post) I doubt it could be taken quite as seriously as I had originally intended.

Plus I want to do something that makes use of my time down here. The stupid environment in which I live. This fucking country with its heat and ants and bullshit "social values."

And treasure finding. This isn't a land of heroes. My FHB was going to be a fairytale, "heroic" fantasy adventure game. Nah. People want to dig coin out of ancient temples in jungles. Let's go with that.

(two minutes over)

More later. People are (nicely) sticking around as a I type this up. There will be posts in the near future on the following:

The Magnificent Seven
The Big Six
Skill Trees
Counting Coins

And maybe some stuff about world building in South America. Maybe not till next week...but then again, maybe tonight (I've been having serious bouts of insomnia lately).

More later.

(four minutes over)

Thursday, April 9, 2015


I was up very late last night as my wife was prepping for a three-day business trip (she'll be back late Saturday...I'm on single parent duty till then) and, while flipping channels, came across an animated "Justice League" film showing on late night HBO.

Seeing as how my son is a fan (we watch a lot of old Super Friends reruns that I downloaded on the ol' iTunes), I watched a bit to see what the latest version of the old DC heroes looks like.


Talk about brutality! The plot was something about the Flash having created an alternate reality by traveling through time and changing the past, whereby he created a world embroiled in an apocalyptic war being fought between the Atlanteans and Amazonians with all the normal supers ramped up to "extra special anti-hero" status and just brutal, brutal violence as the titans beat the living hell out of each other. It was nuts...a "What If" style film that seems to have been put together by folks who were thinking 'how can we get the Justice League members to fight each other? What would that look like?'

It was VERY age inappropriate for my child.

Personally, I thought it was quite interesting and clever, and superheroes (especially ulta-powerful ones like the JL) translate well to the animated medium. So I enjoyed it...seeing things like a murderous, pistol-packing Batman and a child-slaying Wonder Woman are ridiculous (of course), but it's all just goofy (mature audience) fun in a "divergent dimension" plot. Like enjoying the evil Star Trek characters in their Mirror-Mirror episode. I especially liked Superman's accidental incineration of folks with his uncontrollable eye beams. And death, death everywhere.

Oh, it is: Justice League: the Flashpoint Paradox. A straight-to-video film it would appear (sorry...the name of the film was in Spanish so it took me a while to figure out what the heck I'd been watching). Interesting. If I'd had more DC like that as a kid, I'd probably have picked the JL over the Avengers (you can't inflict that kind of suffering in the Marvel Superheroes RPG). But even as an adult it was a surprising little diversion.

Just one I won't be showing Diego anytime soon.

Whole Lotta' Bloodletting

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Trying For Dwarves-Sake

I like dwarves. I hate dwarves. I want dwarves in my game. I want all fantasy dwarves I've seen in the last 25 years to burn in their campaign setting's lowest ring of hell.

What exactly is going on here?

When it comes to fantasy mythology there are dwarves and then there are dwarves. I'm inclined to draw a historical delineation across whatever year it was that J.R.R. Tolkien published his Lord of the Rings trilogy. After The Hobbit. Maybe even after The Fellowship of the Ring. Gimli the dwarf, while most assuredly the main culprit responsible for the dwarves downfall from fanciful fairy tale creature to hardened badass warrior wasn't all that bad prior to the Battle of the Hornburg ("Helm's Deep") where his portrayal goes from dwarf companion to "orc-slaying-axe-machine." Where he shows that a dwarf is some kind of melee titan of destruction.

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh,

Okay, just please stop for a second. Lots of folks hate on Tolkien's "vanilla-flavored fantasy" and its influence on D&D. People have been trying to re-skin D&D dwarves in all sorts of ways for years. Gygax's dwarves (see his Gord fiction) have been reviled in some circles, but at least they're deemed to be somewhat different. As an archetype, the D&D dwarf usually ends up looking something like the dwarves in DragonLance...well, they did prior to 3rd edition and the advent of their ascendance as fighters par excellence.

Let's set aside the game for a moment. As a a child, I loved fairy tales. As an adult, I still do...though I'm hard-pressed to find the same sort of magical worlds I did when I was younger (I don't know if this is because of my adult outlook, the lack of decent fairy tale literature at my disposal, or some combination of the two). Fairy tale dwarves...whether they're little miners found in Snow White, sinister wish-granting types like Rumpelstiltskin, or Unseelie faerie-folk...are cool. Even if I set aside my normal shtick of dwarves as inhuman aliens, giving them human-ish traits and personalities (for the purpose of taking up the role of "adventurer"), I like the idea of these little guys with beards that possess their own brand of "earthy" magic. Certainly, all fairy tale dwarves seem to have a "thing" for gold (a relationship with it and ability to produce it, if not the outright avarice depicted in many tales). And "treasure-seeking" has always been the heartbeat the propelled adventurers into the wonder and mysteries of the fantasy RPG.

Well, originally, anyway.

Thorin Oakenshield of Tolkien's The Hobbit is one such adventurer. Yes, he's got human traits...a little arrogance (a sense of self-importance), desires for wealth and revenge, a loyalty to his people and kin, etc. But he's still just a little dwarf. Not a great hero nor a great warrior, though an experienced one. He manages to bash a troll in the face with a log, but he doesn't go armed until after finding an elven sword (and later, after putting on the still-remaing armor of his people lying in Erebor). He has to be told by Gandalf to turn, draw sword, and do battle with the goblins during the dwarves' flight below the Misty Mountains, and it is only the treasure-inspired avarice (and madness) of the dragon hoard that compels him to gird for war against the humans and elves that lay siege to his mountain.

And this is an experienced that fought against the goblins of Moria. The rest of the dwarves in his company are far less fight-worthy, simply fleeing from one opponent after another (as they can), until cornered and compelled to make a stand. These are not warriors. They are not useless, mind you, and they show great courage in facing the perils and travails of their venture (not to mention skill and cunning at times and an ability to loyally stick together even through hardship that might drive them apart). But warriors-born? No.

And this is reflected in the original version of D&D. Men & Magic (volume 1 of the little brown books) allows characters to play dwarves who advance as fighting men with a maximum level of six. 6th level ain't much of a step up from hobbits (er...halflings) or elves, both of whom are limited to 4th level fighting ability. A 4th level fighter uses the exact same save tables as a 6th level fighter; if using the variant combat system presented in OD&D (as opposed to the Chainmail combat system), they have the exact same attack chance (which, incidentally, is the same as a 4th-6th level fighter in B/X). The only advantage a dwarf receives from their two extra levels is an extra 2D6 worth of HPs (plus bonuses if the dwarf has a high CON score). This is nothing compared to the human warriors who can reach the breakpoint of 7th level with its +3 bonus to attacks, +2 to all saves (except dragon breath, which is +3), and an extra D6+1 hit points. And, of course, human fighters have no restriction on levels and can reach those even loftier breakpoints at 10th, 13th, and 16th levels.

Greyhawk (Supplement I) extended dwarves abilities considerably by allowing them to advance to 7th and 8th levels (with a STR score of 17 or 18), as well as allowing dwarves to roll D8s for hit dice. However, the latter isn't that fantastic a bonus...ALL fighting men (including Hobbits and Elves) receive D8s for hit dice in Greyhawk; there was no cursory restriction placed on them for their species as occurred in the later Basic volumes. In many ways, I see Greyhawk as a response to the (perhaps unforeseen) popularity of the game...people were playing a lot of D&D and working their characters characters into the stratosphere, level-wise. These level extensions (along with the unlimited leveling of the Greyhawk-introduced thief class) allowed demihuman PCs to "keep up with the Joneses." A concept (the dwarf) that had been conceptualized in a particular way was slowly morphing into something else.

Consider the dwarf soldier of Chainmail's fantasy armies. The dwarf figure is very much of Thorin's ilk: a 2 point figure, it attacks as Heavy Foot, but only defends as Light Foot. Against giant-sized humanoids (specifically trolls/ogres and giants) they only count half the number of kills (they are twice as hard for the big guys to catch). The only other advantage they have is an ability to function equally well in night and day, and they are drawn to immediately charge/attack goblins, regardless of orders. They are also slower than normal heavy foot (who also cost 2 points to field). Oh...and their morale is no greater than normal heavy footmen.

Yes, they hit hard with their two-handed mauls and axes, but these are not thick-skinned, iron-boned juggernauts; they break easier than men (except when their size gives them an advantage; i.e. versus the "big guys"). They are not "heroic," possessing none of the elves' ability to affect fantasy monsters when armed with magic swords. They're just little fantasy soldiers...though well-modeled by Tolkien standards (if you're just looking at The Battle of Five Armies).

Holmes Basic doesn't address dwarves past level three, but it does "nerf" elves and halflings by reducing their HD to D6s for no given reason. My assumption is that this is a simplification based on the ubiquity of multi-classed fighter-thieves (halflings) and fighter-mages (elves) making "D6" an average of the D8+D4 that these class combos carry. But that's just speculation. Thing is, it ends up having the effect of making dwarves look hardy in comparison to their fellow demihumans...equal to the superior human fighting-man...which wasn't the case before.

[hmm...okay, just perused my Holmes and I do see reasons given for the HP reduction: elves because of their class-mix, but halflings due to their "small size;" though this is in spite of the halfling having the same CON requirements of a dwarf and the same saving throw bonuses. To me, that says "equal stamina" and simply allow the extra levels allow the dwarf fighter to outpace the halfer...but that's just me]

"Our build might be the same, but I get an extra two hit points thanks to my nose and beard, you fool!"

AD&D comes next and here we just see the logical progression of power increase six years into play: dwarves now have a "natural" level restriction of 7 (not six) and can reach as high as 9 (not 8) with an 18 strength. Considering fighter breakpoints for attacks/saves went from every three levels to every two levels in AD&D, this is a considerable improvement in fighting ability for our little fairy tale miners. Unearthed Arcana (1985) took this farther with the inclusion of "mountain dwarves:" a superior brand of dwarf with superior fighting ability based on...well, who cares.

[actually, "mountain dwarves" as a concept of superior dwarfness was introduced in the 1977 Monster Manual. Released prior to the AD&D PHB, it presumably works off the earlier (OD&D) books, as it states that mountain dwarves are superior and can work up to 9th level with an 18 STR. In other words, it appears the dwarves of the PHB are "mountain dwarves" while the dwarves of the LBBs are the inferior "hill dwarves." Unfortunately, this appears to be contradicted in the AD&D text, first by the PHB (who states PC dwarves may equally be either of the hills or the mountains) and then by the already mentioned new rules in the Unearthed Arcana]

Next we come to B/X which gives dwarves the ability to advance to level 12, flying in the face of all that's gone before. I can only assume this is an early attempt at "game balance," as a 12th level dwarf is remarkably similar to a 14th level human fighter (the maximum printed level in the B/X books). Maximum hit points are only one point off from the human fighter at level 14, and a slightly lesser attack ability is balanced by superior saves and additional special abilities. Where the idea of a 12th level fighting dwarf came from is totally beyond my ken...this is double Gygax's original 6th level limit. Crazy.

Tordek. I hate this asshole.
But not as crazy as the 21st century dwarf. Since the advent of D20, dwarves have become the archetypal fighter of latter edition D&D (including Pathfinder). A CON bonus that adds to staying power (particularly since HP bonuses from CON don't "cap" as they do in earlier editions), at the cost of dump-stat CHA? Sure they lose the bonus feat of the human fighter, but their darkvision ability, racial saving throw bonuses (equivalent to feat save bonuses), stackable dodge bonuses, heavy armor movement, exotic weapons, and racial attack bonuses makes them first choice for a badass fighter. Whereas Thorin and Company lamented the fact that they hadn't brought along a "hero" to slay the dragon, any such dragon slayer hired in D20 would have a high percentage of being from the line of Durin.

[since when did humans get upstaged in the arena of bloody warfare? I mean, isn't that humankind's claim to fame...killing folks? We used to be bigger, stronger, and better than it than any other species in the D&D game we've been relegated to the role of "utilitarian dude." Oh, get a bonus a skill point every level and can treat any class as "favored," but you run in 3rd place behind dwarves and half-orces when it comes to fighting prowess]

20th level dwarf fighters. Bite me.

And yet, this is now the expectation. "I want to play a dwarf" is the phrase heard by the player who wants a tough as nails, badass fighter. Even in B/X play, where a dwarf's level is capped (at 12!) it's not an unusual request, because it's so rare for campaign play these days to progress beyond the point where the demihumans lose viability. It's not impossible, mind you...just unlikely. Folks these days have a lot more to distract them from the table-top gaming experience than they did in the old days.

So what's the point of this post? Is it that I hate this expectation? That I want to somehow derail it (or kick its teeth in) so people don't have it? That ain't very likely to happen. Do I want to go back to a time when dwarves were stilted at 6th level and were barely mechanically different from hobbits? If I wanted that, I could just play OD&D (or Swords & Wizardry...I own copies of both).

No. I guess I just want to say that dwarves...fairy tale, fantasy dwarves, an archetype that I love...have been completely ruined for me. They simply don't fit into any RPG that I want to play, no matter how interestingly they might be re-skinned. They just don't fit for me, not in any version of the game (D&D) that I'm interested in running/playing. The Lord of the Rings isn't a sandbox world of adventure. The Hobbit isn't much of one either. Both are good reads (the latter more so, for my money), but they aren't suitable to the type of gaming I have in mind. Maybe if dwarves took over the niche currently reserved for the B/X halfling (i.e. re-skin the "halfling" class as a bearded little dwarf)? Maybe. Then again, didn't I already re-skin halflings to get a wood elf class? Maybe I need to have one "catch-all" demihuman class with options to build the weird little fey of your choice...elf, hobbit, dwarf, whatever. But my most recent fantasy projects haven't had settings of the fairy tale why bother?

*sigh* I need to go to bed. I've got a loooong three days ahead of me.

"What? You expected a resolution to this mess?"