Skip to content

Fantasy Heartbreaker Retrospective Part 2 – Combat

It’s time to tackle Combat in my breakdown of an old Fantasy Heartbreaker I was working on. This is part 2, find part 1 here. I have posted a discussion thread on this topic in the same place as the last post, on the r/RPGDesign subreddit. Anyway, let’s get into it.

Combat

As I alluded to in the previous post, this was an area I put a lot of work into, and had a large focus on during the design. I knew I wanted a combat system that felt “crunchier” than regular D&D style combat of roll attack, roll damage, passive defence.

This was one of the few areas of the game where I had clear design goals in mind before I began work.

What I set out to achieve was to provide players a set of mechanics they could exploit to give themselves advantages in combat that lead to flavourful decisions and more tactical choice without having to resort to a grid.

The key dichotomy I kept focusing on was the idea of a single, high damage attack, versus several low damage attacks. This would be a trade off between a single target high potential damage attack and more consistent, multi-target attacks, with a lower average damage.

This leaves plenty of room for rudimentary tactics, some that are regularly employed in videogames. With a single enemy with high hit points, a higher potential damage attack may be more desirable, but with several low hit point enemies lots of weak attacks is probably more effective.

I imagined certain characters would be better at different kinds of attacks, thus complicating the decision further. In that space I saw the potential for some mechanical depth, something I think is lacking in most TTRPGs.

I however don’t think what I produced in Myth & Malice gave the desired effect, so let’s discuss the design as it’s presented.

Design Goals

I decided early on to do away with the traditional roll for attack, and roll for damage separation we see in D&D-a-likes. I wanted a single roll for determining both. Considering my core mechanic is roll under a stat, this does not immediately cause problems.

If a Character has a high stat in something, they are more likely to hit, which I want. This also means a higher stat allows for a higher roll to be successful. If the number directly corresponds to damage, then a higher roll, deals more damage. With a low stat, Characters are less likely to hit, and even if they do, they will inherently be doing less damage.

There is nothing wrong with this design, but it is a kind of positive feedback loop. The more likely a character is to hit, the more potential damage they can do.

What I also wanted was to use dice of various sizes, based on player choice. This presents a player with options in terms of how a character “feels” when in combat. Rolling a dice with fewer sides is more likely to succeed, but has lower potential damage.

That is, rolling on a d4 or a d6, you have a lower range of potential numbers rolled. But a higher (sometimes guaranteed) chance of success. On bigger dice like a d10 or a d12, you have a higher chance of failure, but with the potential to roll a bigger number.

In the case of fighting, this was meant to be a trade off between a quick jab or a heavy slow swing.

The System

Lets quickly summarise how the combat system works as it is presented in the rules.

I never wrote rules for initiative or starting combat. I intended to outline in a GMs section how to deal with situations involving two opposed agendas using the Opposed Check rules outlined in the Mechanics section, but i never finished writing those rules. Thus, rules as writ, there is no defined way to enter combat. During playtesting, if who goes first was not fictionally obvious, i would use an opposed Move Check (both sides roll move dice under the most relevant Ability Score) highest success wins and goes first.

In Combat, time is dealt with at at an Encounter level (we will cover time, and the action economy in more detail in an upcoming part), meaning second to second action is important. It is up to the GM to determine what is possible each turn, which lasts around 3-10 seconds.

The rules define three types of distinct actions that are most likely to come up; Attack, Defence, and Maneuvers.

Maneuvers allow a character to forgo an Attack or Defence action in favour of an additional in fiction benefit. These are fairly standard in most D&D-alikes.

Attack and Defence are both sides of the opposed roll mechanic outlined in the Mechanics section, in the context of combat specifically.

So, each side rolls a dice, and succeeds if they roll under their most relevant Ability Score. Whoever rolls highest, and succeeded, wins. Combat takes this mechanic, and adds some complexity.

To start with, the dice rolled depends on what the Character is using to perform the action. In the case of an attack, this will almost always be a Weapon Dice. In Defence, this could be a Move Dice, Weapon Dice, or other equipment dice (namely a Shield Dice). All these dice will be anything from a d4 to a d12.

The complexity here is added when it comes to determining what Score the player must roll under to succeed. That is, they roll under all of them.

Depending on what a Character is doing, rolling under different Scores provides different benefits. For an Melee Attack for example, if a roll is under Might, the character can do damage equal to the roll. If the roll is under Dexterity, the character can make another attack, immediately after this one is resolved. Finally, if the roll is under Focus, they deal Damage equal to their focus, instead of the result rolled.

The intent here, is that each of these conditions are not mutually exclusive, Its perfectly possible for a character to roll under all, some, or none of these scores, thus each character, depending on their makeup of Scores in combination with the dice they roll, will feel slightly different to play.

A Character with high Dexterity, low Might and high Focus, is not likely to hit on any individual attack, but will be likely to attack multiple times, and if they do hit, will do a large amount of damage (equal to Focus).

In contrast, a Character with high Might, low Dexterity and low Focus, is very likely to hit, and has the potential for high damage, but is unlikely to get off multiple hits.

This should inform a Player how they want to kit out their character as well. A Weapon with a large weapon dice, has higher potential damage, but will roll over their Scores more often if they are lower than the dice’s max value.

This extends to defence, and ranged combat, but the benefits are slightly different, with the intent being no Character can be good at all types of combat, they must specialise.

Why it doesn’t work

There are multiple reason why this system has failed to embody my design goals, and to be honest, their intent. Let’s break them down, point by point.

1. Score Generation 

My decision to use random score generation, means, it is perfectly possible to have a character have high Scores in all Abilities, and be likely to succeed in all areas of combat. It is just as possible to produce a character who is bad at all areas of combat.

In my opinion, this is bad design. Making it possible to create objectively worse or better characters is one thing, but making this not the result of player decision, but just random chance is not fun, and is not satisfying.

2. Score Scale

In a last ditch attempt to make the Warrior class more relevant, I reduced the scale of Ability Scores from 2-12 to 1-6. The idea being Warriors have the ability to add a value of 1-6 dynamically. We will cover this decision in more detail in the Class Breakdown, but what this does to the mechanic is catastrophic.

Players are (in theory) rolling anything from a d4 to a d12, thus they can roll values from 1-12. This means for most Characters, any dice above a d6 is basically irrelevant, they cant use them.

This is sort of intentional. This puts a soft cap on what weapons/shields/etc, a character should be using. A weak character will little Might will not perform well weilding a huge Greatsword.

However this just makes the player’s “choice” an irrelevant one. Nobody in their right mind would use larger dice when all it does is make a Character less likely to hit. There is absolutely no benefit, as opposed to producing an interesting tradeoff.

3. Equipment Dice & the Move Dice Problem

So all equipment has a dice rating which determines the dice rolled when performing actions with it. As mentioned above, this is meant to provide player a choice when it comes to kitting out their character, and how they fight in combat. Equipment with small dice are more likely to roll under Scores, and gain the benefits, but have lower potential damage.

What i found in playtesting however, is that for players, this is a non-choice. They just pick the biggest dice they can, that means they cannot fail rolls. Nobody picks the bigger, higher damage weapon because it simply won’t hit at higher damage values anyway, so there is literally no upside.

This is poorly thought out, and does not invoke my intended play.

And while we are on the subject of dice size, lets discuss the Movement Dice. The intent with this mechanic, is that each player has a Movement Dice rating used to roll any check involving Opposed Movement, like chases, initiative, or dodging in combat. The dice goes down in size as a Character don’s Armour, thus making a trade off between damage reduction and damage avoidance.

Characters with “better” movement, use a bigger movement dice. The logic here being they can roll higher potential values. However, what this means practically, is that Characters with better movement, fail more often, because they are more likely to roll over their Ability Scores. Urg. I have few words for this decision other than it is a terrible design choice, that caused unending problems during playtesting.

The Lesson here, is rules cohesion. My Combat system, my Scores system and my Equipment system, are at odds. They do not produce the desired effect in combination.

Summary

In summary, perhaps this system could be reworked. I got a lot of positive feedback during playtesting about rolling one dice under all scores, and determining the outcome.

It produced varied combat rounds, and sometimes, an interesting choice as to what enemies the party decided to approach with what characters.

However i also got a lot of frustrated players who felt they could not produce the desired fighting style they wanted from their character. I also saw a couple characters who were clearly out classing others when it came to combat. This on its own was not a huge issue, but in combination with the Warrior class not feeling much better in combat than other classes, ment players felt a disconnect with what a character was and what they could do.

I have mentioned this before, but I do feel, this easily the worst part of the game, and who’s surprised really? This is by far the most complex and central part. Looking back, I immediately ask myself; Why? Why do the legwork for your first game, when you could make a hack?

Good question! I started the design process by slowly replacing parts of The Lamentations of the Flame Princess, so technically it evolved from a hack, but I always knew I wanted rid of the mechanics from that game, so I wasn’t kidding anyone.

All in all, if I were to return to this project, I would certainly gut this area of the game, and replace it with a much more familiar system. I’m too inexperienced as a designer to produce something that can stand up to the current zeitgeist that is D&D style combat.

That’s it for Combat. In all likelihood we will return to this subject later when we cover Equipment, Classes and other areas of the game in later posts.

Last week had an informative discussion of Reddit, so do check that out if you haven’t already.

As always, please do tell me what you think, discuss this on Reddit, in the comments below, or just think about it.

Next time, my Favourite part – The Classes!

The Gemstone Archive

About a week ago FM Geist posted a challenge on G+, after finding an amazing map in an old Ravenloft adventure.

I decided to give it a go, feeling inspired by the idea of a dungeon within a gemstone.

The idea here, is its something player characters can find within the world, and carry it with them as they adventure. Then they can enter it whenever they wish, solving its riddles, and gathering its treasure as and when they wish.

This was a lot more work than I anticipated! A lot of fun, and something that challenged by dungeon making skills.

I’m only really 100% happy with the Amethyst room, being an interesting puzzle to play out IRL.

I may revisit this later, as I cut the scope of the adventure down drastically from my initial plans.

Regardless, if you end up using parts of it, let me know! Id love to hear how things turn out. Ill certainly be using it at least one of my ongoing games.

Fantasy Heartbreaker Retrospective Part 1 – Core Mechanics

A while ago I got deep into the design and testing of a heartbreaker system before feeling road blocked and leaving it for a few months. I have since moved on to other projects, and I think tearing it apart ceremoniously in public is probably not only valuable to me, but could provide some insight for other designers.

For the full system, I have posted it here, so feel free to read the whole thing for context if you wish. Hey even play it! It’s technically functional, although it takes a lot of liberties. I’d absolutely love to hear any feedback you may have. I’m simultaneously posting this on the r/RPGDesign subreddit for in-depth discussion, so join in the conversation there as well if you like. I’ll be breaking out bits of it to talk about specifically in these posts, as this is far too big a topic for one sitting.

I by no means think this is a good game, but I think it had some good ideas, admittedly a lot of them stolen and reworked from better designers than me. I think my goals were noble, I just had (and still have) such little experience and knowledge, I couldn’t follow through on my grand ideas. Maybe doing this breakdown will help me, and maybe you?

Before we start, ill pitch it:

“Myth & Malice is an OSR inspired fantasy table top role playing game designed to emphasise player creativity, and minimise GM workload.”

Let’s get into it. This week – Core Mechanics.

Mechanics


Page 3 and we kick things right of with the games core engine. I think this is good. One thing about many games that frustrated me during my research was being unable to find this kind of a page. This is integral to the game, and should be front and centre. If I’m ever confused at the table about how to resolve something, I should be able to come back here and re-calibrate my thinking.  We will talk more about layout and presentation in a later post, but the simple fact this page exists is good design IMHO.

As for its actual content… well let’s dive into that.

I wanted a roll under mechanic at the heart of the game. Once I played The Black Hack (a game from which M&M unabashedly takes a lot of inspiration) I realised how quick and simple it made checks in game. Very little on the fly maths has to be done to determine a result, and I liked that a lot. What The Black Hack lacked for me was some crunch and nuance. By this I mean, I wanted there to be some player choice/control over the roll, instead of just declaring a certain situation depends on a certain stat and asking the player to roll under a number determined (mostly randomly) at character creation. This is where the following comes in:

“The Dice and Score used depend on the context of the check.”

You read that right, not only will context change the number under which a player rolls, but also the dice used. Not to tease, but this if probably the fatal flaw of this system, and i’m not going to cover it in detail here, it’s simply too big a topic. This will become much clearer when we get down to combat, which needs its whole own post because… woo did I get lost in the weeds there!

Suffice to say, it’s not elegant. I attempted to give players some form of a choice with this mechanism, but it ends up not being an interesting one, nor one that’s really that difficult. We will leave it there for now, and move on to other parts we can talk more about.

I split checks into three categories; Base, Opposed and Group checks. In my eyes these were situations with clear distinctions, and clearly needed distinct approaches. Base checks are for Characters doing this solely dependent on themselves, Opposed are for when there is a force actively working against the Character, and Group checks are situations involving more than one Character working together. Simple, easy to distinguish, and the mechanics feel like they reflect this. This is one decision I came to early on in the design process, and even after play testing I stuck with it. I am still happy with this breakdown.

I did further breakdown Group checks, which I do also feel is a valuable distinction, one that i don’t see made in other RPGs. The way I see it, there are situations when working together, that benefit from lots of people being involved, and others where that is detrimental. There is a reason you don’t send a whole party to scout out the next room, but you do want everyone to push when the door is stuck, and this puts the benefits and consequences of this in the forefront of Player’s and GM’s mind.

This also makes working together super powerful, which I also wanted. This is a cooperative game after all, it should be encouraged. Though one thing I did find during playtesting is I often had to remind players that working together gave them a significant advantage is certain scenarios. Perhaps with more plays and experience, they would have figured it out themselves, but it is something I probably should have emphasised better in the rules.

Finally, I lifted the ever popular usage dice mechanic, also inspired from The Black Hack, as well as various other iterations. I tweaked it to my taste and I knew it would be serviceable. This is also the first of a few mechanics in the game which I would also consider optional. During my research, I found a lot of people, especially in the OSR community, who tend to treat new systems as libraries of interesting mechanics that they pilfer for their own homebrew systems. This one of those rules that if it’s not to your liking, removing it has little impact on the games overall structure.

Modularity of rules like this is one thing I tried to include where I could in Myth & Malice. While I think a game is stronger for having tight knit rules that all work together like a well oiled machine, OSR games are not played like that. They rely heavily on improvisation and the “Rulings not Rules” mantra. Therefore I was aiming more for a collection of quick reference ideas than a comprehensive ruleset.

…Or at least looking back, that’s what I should have been aiming for. My core mechanic is sort of the antithesis of that idea.

So here is kind of the first lesson from this section. One that will be no doubt repeated throughout this analysis; Define your design goals, and do it as early as possible.

I basically didn’t have any goals laid out before or even during design. I hear designers harp on about them a lot, and I figured I would establish them as I went, but I just never did!

I think part of that was I didn’t really know what I wanted from the system. Perhaps I needed to fail miserably to learn this, but the point still stands I should have tried!

Stats

Right, how do we define a Character? These do fit quite tightly with the core mechanic, so we will get onto why I chose the numbers I did in a bit but firstly I’ll run through what they are and what I was aiming for.

Myth & Malice has 9 core stats, split into 3 groups of 3. The groups are based on how they are used, and each group contains an equivalent body, speed, and mind stat.

Let’s run through the groups and why I added them first. The groups are; Attributes, Abilities and Qualities.


The Attributes; Brawn, Agility and Resolve, are basically saves from D&D. These are meant to be used in situations where the GM wants to test a character’s reaction or their raw ability. Honestly, looking back these are a bit of an afterthought. They serve a fairly minor function, and are sat front and centre in the rules, and on the character sheet.

The Abilities are Might, Dexterity and Focus. These are exclusively used for combat. I wanted to separate combat stats to avoid scores being used for multiple purposes, like the classic example in D&D 3.X of Dexterity determining initiative, AC, ranged attack and some skills.


Finally the Qualities are used to… generate more stats. Kind of janky, but the other scores only require some simple maths to be done on these numbers. We have Stock, which is used to calculate hit points, Mobility, which is used to work out movement, and Insight which is used to work out Memory, or basically skill slots.

So those are all the stats that are effectively rolled randomly, which we will talk about in more detail last, but the rest are either worked out from these or determined from other player choices such as Race. Let’s dig into those.

Derived Stats

Flesh and Mettle are my own version of Logan Knight’s Flesh and Grit. I liked the idea of a split health pool for more reasons than those outlined by Logan’s rules.

My grand idea with these split pools was two fold. On one hand, by limiting Flesh to smaller numbers, and allowing it to be hit directly by various means such as critical hits, or sneak attacks, it makes Characters susceptible to a quick death at all levels. Something which is missing time and again in D&D-a-like games. Mettle is easy to gain easy to lose, the Flesh harder to lose, but far more serious when you do.

Another advantage is it gives the GM a resource they can chip away at through means other than combat. My idea with Mettle was to have it taken away through things like strenuous activity, or hunger, or weariness, etc. However I never wrote rules for that! As it stands, it’s basically pointless. I had vague rules for how to use them written up, but during playtesting I pretty much winged it, and I guarantee it only worked because I knew what to do with them. Perhaps this could have been elaborated in a GM section, but that’s not included here, so there is little point discussing it.


Armour will be covered in the equipment discussion, but I will say here I don’t think armour as damage reduction just isn’t fun I table top games. It slows things down, and can create situations where a character is literally invincible. At least the way it’s laid out here. I’d like to revisit this topic because I feel there has to be a solution, but for now, lessons learned.

Encumbrance is pretty much lifted from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, one of its best innovations. I’ve even further simplified it because why does it need to be at all complicated? It’s abstract in any form regardless. I simply use Brawn number of items. Easy. Exactly what you fill those slots with is one of most interesting choices in D&D style games in my opinion. Though that does require some lists of interesting items. I was using various tables from different OSR blogs, but I should have written my own.

Movement. Eesh. It basically doesn’t work. The idea here (which now looking isn’t even laid out in the rules properly) was that you roll this dice when movement is contested, and you roll it under an Ability score.

What’s ridiculous is faster characters actually end up losing in tests of speed far more often than slow ones. I tried too hard to pair it up with my core mechanic, and it just didn’t work. The idea here is, the less armour you wear, the bigger dice you roll, thus the bigger potential number you get. The problem is, it’s designed to be rolled under Ability Scores, meaning a bigger dice (in most cases) means you’re more likely to fail. It never worked, and I pretty much ignored it during playtesting. This is an example of where I am too beholden to my own rules. I should have either resolved it differently, or removed it entirely.

Finally we get to Memory and Skills. I liked the idea of Memory, and in some ways it did simplify character creation. It boils down to, each character gets a number of “Things” they can be good at, and you just pick them.

For example if Dave has 3 points to spend, he might pick Swords, Thievery and Diplomacy. This is simple, and evocative. Believe it or not, I wrote all this without having read how proficiency worked in 5th Edition D&D. Perhaps I subconsciously absorbed it prior, but having only recently played 5e, I can already see many ways to improve on this system. I think have players just pick things from a list of choices is far quicker and actually more engaging than putting x number of points into a skill, which is what I had before.

I’ve added in part of the Mage mechanic here, and I think that was a bad call. Ill go over how that affects the class when I discuss those, but the idea behind this choice was to temper a Mage’s’ abilities a bit. Like how in other D&D style games where magic users can’t wear armour or use weapons. This doesn’t ban anything, it just requires more investment.

I think I’m still split, because writing this out again now, it sounds like a neat idea. I think my main problem was how I generated the numbers involved which we will get to shortly.

For now, let’s have a quick look at skills. These evolved a little from Lamentations of the Flame Princess also. I picked a set I felt covered more situations, and were a little more evocative. Players got to interpret them how they liked, and would often roleplay them how they saw them being used as opposed to requiring me to define them.

However, boiling skills down to an x in 6 chance sounds straightforward, but I actually found doing playtests that players really disliked this. They complained it felt random, and that having a 1 in 6 chance to do things by default felt too low.

What’s also an issue is scalability. You can only improve a skill so many times before is maxed out, and this leads to either infrequent improvements or players with too many maxed out skills.

One thing I think this highlights very well is that for similar mechanics, similar levels of granularity are needed for things to feel fair. The “feel” of skill rolls are markedly different to Ability rolls or Combat rolls in Myth & Malice, thus you notice it more. In most D&D-a-likes, all rolls feel roughly the same (All use d20 + numbers or d20 under a number, etc). This isn’t an issue for damage rolls, because they are so disconnected from the rest of the game, but if the system to work out if something happens or not is different in different situations, I  think it can feel unfair. At least from my limited experience.

Learning is another one of those after thoughts. I think I read something that inspired it, and decided to add it in because the game didn’t have much else in the way of progression. It’s not great, but it was serviceable. Id probably change it a bit, maybe just mark off after a “significant failure” or something. Tracking multiple failures sounds easy, but it ends up being just another thing for the GM and players to forget while playing.


My summaries of how to use skills and tools feel a little out of place here. These are essentially GM guidelines for how to use them. I don’t think they are needed for the player facing rules, or at least should be put in a “Playing the game” section or similar.

Other than that, there isn’t much else to talk about with them. They are fairly standard rules found in most other RPGs, and in my experience tend to be forgotten or ignored anyway.

Now let’s talk numbers.

Right out of the gate here, I’m going to say; I wish I’d just done point buy or arrays for character statistics. I think that alone would have solved a lot of problems I came across during playtesting. I chose to have players roll randomly for a couple of reasons, both were misguided, and I should have thought them through more thoroughly, as well as been open to other options.

My first and stupidest reason, was because it’s “Old-School”. That is to say, this is an OSR game, thus, it’s the status quo. Bad move. I think it’s probably generally accepted that good design means questioning the status quo, every step of the way. Ask yourself; why are things done this way? Will your game benefit from it in the long run? Does it go against your design goals? Well I just committed to it, and my game was worse for it as far as I can tell.

The second reason was a little more sensible. I originally designed the stats to be “die-dropable”. The idea was they sat in a 3×3 table and you could drop 9d6 on them to instantly generate a character. Perfect for GMs!

The problem is, as the game evolved I changed how the stats worked to the point where this wasn’t possible anymore. Thus, at that point I should have reconsidered my original design, but I didn’t.

The original plan was that the stats could be laid out like this:

Brawn

Might

Stock

Agility

Dexterity

Mobility

Resolve

Focus

Insight

Now, drop a d6 on each cell, and then add along rows cumulatively from right to left, that is to say, Stock would be 1d6, Might would be 1d6 + Stock, and Brawn would be 1d6 + Might + Stock. Then repeat for the other two rows.

In theory, this provides numbers within ideal ranges for my purposes, the Qualities in the right most column all have values from 1 – 6, Abilities from the center column have values from 2 – 12, and Attributes from the left have 3 – 18.

For Attributes you roll a d20 under the value, Abilities you roll anything from a d4 – d12 under the value, and Qualities are numbers for working things out, so I wanted those low.

Voila! We have a nice-ish distribution, a quick way to generate characters and everything if fine and dandy no?

Well… during playtesting, I immediately found that my Warrior class, the class that was supposed to be good in combat, was no more or less good than any other character. We will get it what changes I made to the class when we approach them all, but I foolishly decided to hamper all other characters by reducing all Abilities to a single d6.

This basically made the whole game fall apart, and I didn’t really reword anything to fix the glaring holes that appeared as a result. Due to this, Movement is even more dysfunctional as characters have even lower Ability scores to roll under, making failure even more likely. It’s a mess.

A couple other minor changes that were made here was I removed the additional d6 roll for Attributes, and instead replaced it with a flat bonus depending on what Race you are. An ok change I guess, but it kind of comes across as half-committing to both random stats, and what is effectively a point-buy system or player choice. I should really have picked one or the other, the rule doesn’t really add anything other than more complexity to character creation. Something which is actually against one of the few design goals I (kind of) had going in my head; quick and simple character creation.

That’s enough rules analysis for now, lets move on to a summary of this section.

Summary

All in all, I think a lot of the poor decisions in this system can be traced back to the core mechanic, and stat generation. And really, who’s is surprised by this? I tried to innovate with core resolution on my first game. It was unlikely to go well when I simply don’t the experience to foresee potential problems, and then stubbornly refuse to rethink my design when I come across them.

Stat generation was a big problem, because I found during the playtests that the divide between good and bad stats was just too great, and some characters were simply much better than others, and that’s not the feeling I wanted to invoke. Point buy solves this by ensuring you cant make too terrible a character, and also allows players to make the Character they want to play, which I think is important. That is certainly a change would make. I’m willing to sacrifice “instant” character generation for that, ad in theory it’s still possible.

Breaking out Stats into three separate groups depending usage worked pretty well, and committing harder to that idea I think is a good idea for future projects. With point buy, it may become a real choice. Do I want to be really good in combat, at the detriment to my skills? Or vice versa? Or a mix? That’s an interesting choice I feel. In its current state, its just sort of pot luck.

Skills are something that would need a rework. They are serviceable in this state, but were not fun during play. More tightly integrating them with a core mechanic would be a better idea. It definitely still stands though that asking players simply to pick from a list of options is a good design choice. Perhaps one that can be extended to other parts of the game? Ill leave that question open for now.

I’m done throwing all my thoughts about this section into a word document. Please do tell me what you think, discuss this on Reddit, in the comments below, or just think about it. Regardless, I hope your able to glean any value from my ramblings. If no-body else benefits from this, I certainly am learning a lot about my own design process and decision making. I shall continue this in my next post – the Combat System I keep harping on about!

The Isle Of Splinters

As part of a Pirate campaign I have in the works, I have been building and stealing islands to populate my world map with.

One of my original ideas was The Isle of Splinters, which I have created a one page adventure for below:

A small collection of rock “Splinters” jutting from the sea, there reside a flock of Harpies who harass any ship foolish enough to get close.

In my campaign, Esmerelda the Witch Queen, will hold vital information that the players will need to extract from her, in order to find secret Treasure.

I have entered it into the One Page Dungeon Contest, an awesome initiative which produces some fantastic RPG content. If your reading this post, this years entry is likely closed (I entered fairly late!), but there are a wealth of adventures out there, free to download and use.

Perhaps one will inspire you to enter next year?…

Monster Dice

All monsters in D&D style games have three core elements: hit points, attack value and damage. All monsters have these in some form. Some monsters have extra special abilities, but those are just gravy. A sewer rat has hit points, an attack value and a damage value. That’s all the bare bones you need. What if we rolled all those things into one? The Monster Dice.

Imagine the most basic monster you can, a floating blob with teeth. The blob monster.

We could represent a low level blob monster with a single dice, a d6, sat on the table, on the value 6. The blob monster has 6HP, it adds 6 to attacks rolls, and when it hits, it does 6 Damage. Simple.

When Belinda the Fighter takes a swing at it with her axe, and does 4 Damage to the blob, she takes a good chunk out of it, and it’s looking battered. I turn the dice around, and it’s now sat on a 2. 2 HP left, adding 2 to attack rolls and doing 2 damage when it hits. By injuring the blob, it’s now less effective in combat, as its weakened.

Want a tougher blob? Make it a d8, or a d10. What about a huge blob monster as a d20! The magic user might want to throw a fireball at that one first, before Belinda wades into the fray.

We can go further. What if it’s a more complex monster, with multiple limbs or ways of attacking? Like a bat:

Bat

So the Bat has a mouth full of sharp teeth that deal a d6 damage, and a couple of weedy wings just keeping its pudgy frame airborne. Its guna bite the characters if its given the option. But what if Belinda takes another swing of her axe to the beast, dealing 3 Damage to the poor things face? Now, maybe it changes tactics. With a wounded jaw, it starts clawing at its opponents with its d4 wings.

Perhaps Jeffry see’s an opportunity to incapacitate their enemy, and shoot its wings off. Do 4 damage to a wing, and it’s been chopped off. A Wingless bat hobbling across the floor to bite you isn’t as much of a threat anymore.

I think you get the basic idea. Lets run with it:

Ogre

With larger monsters, giving their main bulk a dice gives them more survivability. Perhaps this is what gets hit by AOE attacks, or missed called shots, etc. Maybe you just remove damage from that first? It’s up to you. I think context plays a bit role here.

Regardless, the Ogre here has big burly arms that swing for 8 damage. Chop it’s arms off and it will kick you in the shins for 6, or headbutt you for a measly 4.

Dire Rat

The d8 is the Dire Rat’s bite damage, the d6 would be it’s claws and d4 it’s tail should it have to resort to it.

Balilisk 

The main threat of a Balilisk is it’s head and it’s gaze attacks. Giving the head high hit points and damage represents it’s bite attack and armoured scales. You could use d4s for its eyes. The tail of d6s can keep being chopped off bit by bit, but it’s always doing 6 damage.

Dragon

Dragons are big and scary so giving it lots of bits to lop off is fun. The d10 represents the head for bite attacks or perhaps a breath weapon. The d4s are wings, the d8s it’s legs for claw attacks and the d6s are it’s tail. Like the Ogre, giving it some bulk can help make it feel more like a big beasty.

Hydra

This is the monster that first came to mind when I thought of this. With each head being a d6, you can easily replace every one they chop off with another two. Plus is presents an interesting option; injure all the heads until they do very little damage, without chopping them off, and they don’t grow back.Then destroy the body.

Beholder

What is a beholder if not a blob monster with lots of weedy eye stalks?

Human

In reality I would run NPCs as characters, not like a monster, but the point still stands that you could use this method to model any humanoid.

Gelatinous Cube

The gelatinous cube is just a blob of hit points, but one that doesn’t hit very hard. Perhaps, when the cube steals a character’s weapons, you swap out these d6s for the players weapon dice?

Taking this and running with it, we can come up with all sorts of monsters. Tune the monster difficulty by increasing the number of dice or their size. Perhaps some of the dice start at a lower value, but require the full amount of damage to destroy.

This makes players think about monsters more in terms of their physicality, and provide opportunities for player creativity and choice. It also does away with a bunch of bookkeeping on the GM’s side of things, and saves on paper which I inevitably scrawl all over when tracking different pools of hit points during a fight.

I generally think this will only work for 1-3 monsters, before it gets unwieldy, but for a boss fight it would work wonderfully. A bunch of mooks could be just a single dice, so if you have a load of d6s that would work.

If you try it out, let me know how it goes!

Zelda Inspired Races

I’m starting a new campaign based on the Moon Castle posts by Arnold K over at Goblin Punch. I took the premise and started to run with it, and i’m enjoying it so far.

I wanted new races that weren’t dwarves, elves or halflings, and as his posts were Zelda inspired, I thought id use the same source for my inspiration. Including normal humans, these are what I came up with.

Mechanics wise, you can of course come up with whatever makes sense in the system you use, or simply supplement existing race options.

Shiilak

Shiilaks live often in mountainous or rocky environments. They are a race of hardy people, able to survive punishment that would kill most other creatures.

Shorter than the average Human, a Shiilak has a similar build and body shape. Their skin is rough and gritty, like sandpaper, and across their backs are rock-like growths that become larger with age, forming a kind of shell. They smell of dust and clean themselves by rubbing their bodies with dry earth.

A bit on the nose. Credit to martyisnothere

Skiilaks eat a lot, twice as much as a similar sized Human. Although, they aren’t very fussy, often bulking out meals with soil, sand and gravel.

While not adverse to water, if a Shiilak’s skin becomes wet, it loses its hardened texture, and becomes soft and supple much like a Human’s.

Vash 

An amphibious race, Vash is born in an almost unrecognisable form. A small, black, polliwog like creature the size of a cat, Vash are cared for by elders in small nursery ponds until able to breath air.

A short and sturdy race of people, Vash are very varied in appearance. From wet, smooth, spotted skin of bold colours, to rubbery, rough, warty complections of dull greys, and everything in between. They smell as pleasant as their last swim, often in muddy river water or stagnant ponds. Their large, fist sized eyes bulge from their flat heads, which has earned them the epithet “Toad”, often thrown at them in insult.

Credit here

Without moist skin, they are unable to breathe and so prefer to be submerged in water where possible. Dry environments can be lethal to them, only able to survive a few hours in hot, dry, sun with no water.

The Vash are incredibly agile creatures, both in and out of the water, and can easily leap distances impossible for those of similar size. They have a long and sticky tongue, with a glove like appendage at the end, which they can use to grasp and pull objects from a short distance.

Mohln

The Mohln are not born, but grown. They emerge from the undergrowth of deep forests when they have grown large enough to sustain themselves without remaining rooted.

When young, their skin in a light green and supple like the underside of a leaf, but as they age, their skin darkens, toughens and becomes waxey. If they live long enough, their skin will eventually turn into something more akin to bark.

by tvonn9

Tall, slender and grassy green to oakish brown, they smell of pollen and earth. The small twigs and leaves that sprout from their bodies like hair, change with the season, shedding during the colder months, and blooming into colourful flowers during spring.

While somewhat fragile, these humanoid plant-like creatures feed mostly on sunlight. While able to survive without the sun on their skin, or feeding on water through their feet, they soon wither and become feeble if they do not supplement it by consuming various insects.

They bleed a sticky sap when injured, and any lost limbs can grow back with time. They are vulnerable to flames however, and any injury sustained as a result fire cannot be recovered from naturally. Upon death,the Mohln shrivel and decay like fruit.

Mohln liquors are a prized but often frowned upon delicacy…

Mohln don’t have a family structure like other races, they are all seeds from the same Mother Mohln, a root system that pervades most of the known world. This means they share a kinship with each other similar to Human siblings.