Monday, December 19, 2011

[Greyhawk] Weapons & Armor

So from my last post, I wrote about looking for a way to address Weapons and Armor in a High Fantasy “old school gameworld” implementation of Fate.

It’s currently looking like this cut of Spirit of Greyhawk will leverage Strange Fate’s tiering, so I felt there was a need to leave the basic 4dF dice mechanic alone.

The other reason I want to leave 4dF intact was because I wanted to have the possibility of a -4 dice roll still be a real danger. Additionally, I wanted weapon damage to have a degree of randomness also.

So given that Spirit of Greyhawk is meant to be “old school” (in case the name didn’t make it clear), this seemed an interesting opportunity to make use of the old school dice (d4, d6, d8, d12, d20).

This means that for weapons that do more damage, use dice with higher maximums. You can also use the d6 and get a 1d2 or 1d3.

So I currently am working with the following progression:
(No bonus), d2, d3, d4, d6, d8, d12, and so on…

Next, you’d need to determine how much granularity you want in weapon damage. For example, DFRPG has 4 levels of weapon damage to cover everything from a pen-knife to dynamite. The Weapons Table in the PHB reflects 9 different combinations of damage dice, so 9 levels of weapon damage before you even got into things like explosives, dragon breath and ballista. I sided more closely with the Fate-y portion of the spectrum an currently have mundane melee and missile weapons using 5 levels of damage bonuses, from a Sling Bullet (no weapon bonus) up to the Halberd and Two-Handed Sword (1d6).

Example: A Fighter with Melee +2, wielding a Two-Handed Sword (1d6), would have the following range:

4dF (dice) + 1d6 (weapon) + 2 (skill) = range of -1 (minimum) to +12 (maximum), with an average of 6.

By setting the damage modifier as it’s own die which is visually separate from the Fudge dice, I think it becomes easier to distinguish between the hit and the damage, if you decide you want to do that.

Since most old-school d6’s use numbers on the die face instead of pips, you can separate Strange Fate tiering d6s from a SoG damage d6 by having the tiering use pips and damage armor use numbers.


Armor works in a consistent fashion to weapons, with the armor die increasing the defender’s shifts specific to receiving damage. The source material has 9 ranks of mundane armor, from Unarmored at AC 10, down to Plate Mail + Shield at AC 2.

Working from a subjective assumption that the best armor could conceivably negate the most damaging weapon (more from a game balance perspective than any basis in reality), that puts the highest mundane armor die as a d6. So then that means you’d have 4 ranks of armor bonus dice (d2, d3, d4, d6) to divide among 8 ranks of armor classes that are actual armor (AC 9 to AC 2). Rather than just have a die increase every two ranks, I prefer to reserve the best armor of AC 2 as being the only one at the d6. Your mileage may vary.

Example: Given the same fighter above, but with Plate Mail (no shield, due to the two handed sword), places her at AC 3. This means that in SoG she would roll an additional d4 for her defense rolls.

Statted out with the same assumptions in the original example, you would have the following range:

4dF (dice) + 1d4 (armor) + 2 (skill) = -1 (minimum) to +10 (maximum), with an average of 5.

Enchanted Weapons & Armor

SoG’s source material references basic magic improvements as a +1, +2, and so on. Rather than add just straight shift increases (+1 stress box for a +1 enchantment is too much bonus for this gameworld), I chose to just modify the die being used for the mundane (base) Weapon / Armor enhancement.

If you consider the weapon/armor damage-die progression as a ladder (something all Fate types should be familiar with), then the bonus would represent the number of shifts up the damage ladder.

This would mean that a weapon/armor ladder could look like this:

  • (...progressing on upwards...)
  • d12
  • d8
  • d6
  • d4
  • d3
  • d2
  • (No bonus die)

Example: A dagger has a base (mundane) damage of 1d2. A dagger +1 would instead roll 1d3 (one shift up the ladder from a 1d2) for the weapon bonus. A dagger +2 would instead roll two shifts up from a 1d2, and be a 1d4.

The other reason I don’t want to get into a lot of +1 / -1 manipulations, is that I don’t want to dilute the idea that the most valuable currency in the resolution process is a character’s skill, more than the magical bonuses. Skills are what allows for straight shifts (no die roll) in the min/max range range, and I believe that’s an important distinction that should be retained.

Also, by shifting the damage dice up and down, you also leave open the possibility for more powerful enchanted weapons to grant tiering-type bonuses in addition to shifts up the weapons ladder.

Friday, December 9, 2011

[Greyhawk] NaGa DeMon Post-Mortem

Working on getting Spirit of Greyhawk ready in a state to complete the NaGa DeMon contest in the month of November more or less precluded any real posting in November.  In the final analysis, I would have to say it was a great learning experience.  While I’m not a professional writer like Mike, if you’re an amateur like me and you have hopes of someday getting a Fate implementation to a playable state, you owe it to yourself to find something like this contest to motivate you to make that extra push.

So, lessons learned: 

You’re Doing it Wrong

I’ve said it in previous posts, but I discovered roadblocks will come up if a design wasn’t “right”.  Of course the definition of “right” is subjective, but I believe you’re on the right track with a piece of design when roadblocks vanish and at the same time you get a burst of creative energy to push through other parts of design.   

So when I got stuck, almost every time it was because what I was trying to do wasn’t “right”.

Example:  Weapon and Armor damage modifiers.  Quite a few variations were attempted within SoG...

  • No weapon damage modifiers (a la SotC RAW)
  • No weapon damage modifiers but weapon-specific maneuvers (the previous frontrunner)
  • “Standard Issue” positive or negative shifts associated with weapon/armor selections.
  • Different colored dice (see this post for white/blue/red dice having different potential for +1 shifts)

...and while there’s nothing wrong with any of those options in and of themselves, nothing was hitting the sweet-spot between crunchy enough for a Fantasy game in the world of Greyhawk, and still be streamlined enough for a Fate implementation. 

Every time I looked at Weapons and Armor I would just sigh and wonder if it was “close enough”.  Plus whenever I considered related design issues I kept running into the same-old question marks in addition to finding new ones:  handling enchanted items with straight adds, other combat-related effects from enchantments (ye olde Vorpal sword effect) and so forth.  In other words, it wasn’t “right”.

Necessity is the Mother of Translation

Before the contest, I would hit roadblocks and set them aside to fix at the generic designation of “later”.  My thinking was that I could work around the roadblock and by the time I circled back to it, I would be able to have enough work done in other areas that the solution to the roadblock would become obvious (like playing “Minesweeper”).  Prior to NaGa DeMon, I hadn’t come back to address my “later” list too often...

However once I had a serious deadline, I didn’t have time to set anything aside, especially an important part of the game.  So I had to circle back around to any roadblocks I had pretty quickly.

This was when I realized the real danger of the “circling back around” method...  Typically the design pieces you try to work on first are pretty important to the game.  So if you wait too long to solve the roadblock in an important section of the game, you may find yourself painted into a corner by the time you get back around to the it.  I still had to solve the original problem, and at the same time ended up having to rip out a lot of work that I had done while working around the roadblock.

Example:  Continuing on from the above example, I was certain I needed damage variations for Spirit of Greyhawk, I couldn’t figure out how to do it within the constraints of the scale in which Greyhawk considered weapons. 

Specifically the source material’s weapon listing showed something like 9 different variations in weapon damage, but the very high end of the damage scale (halberd, two-handed sword) would only result in what translated to a SINGLE box on the physical stress track (at best).  Now of course skill and luck (and Aspects/Fate Points) are the main currencies of stress in Fate, so how do you add gradients of (perceived?) crunch into weapons and armor without blowing them out of proportion with how they work in the gameworld?

Additionally, everything I was trying didn’t seem to fit so well with the dice mechanic I was using for Wizardry (2dF+2).  So far, playtesting has shown that people kept having to remind themselves which dice mechanic to use for which type of thing was being tried.

When In Doubt, Go Back to the Gameworld

Perhaps even more frustrating than the “I have no idea how to design this” type of roadblock, were those situations where I had too many choices.  Specifically when I had made the decision to design a piece of the game in one way, only to discover that a very similar piece of the world had previously been designed in a different way.  Leaving those differences in place wouldn’t work and would feel pretty arbitrary and patchwork.

Specificially, I hit plenty of design disconnects that had to be reconciled when I tried to stitch together portions of the game from which I only had “initial notes” that had been worked on at different times.

During the course of the month, I learned that the answer was almost always to be found by looking at how those different designs work within the gameworld.  Specifically the design that feels most “right” is the one that supported player expectations of the gameworld and at the same time supports the Fate “fractal design theory”--which for me meant that if the design also got me excited for designing other areas of the game, it’s probably the “right” answer.

Example, cont.:  Despite the fact that all my initial tests on different colored dice mechanics during NaGa DeMon appeared to be okay, but it didn’t really feel “right” and didn’t provide the excitement I hoped it would.  Specifically my playtesting showed that it slowed down skill contests “just enough” that it didn’t feel Fate-like anymore.  (Not a criticism on the concept of the mechanic, just reporting my results)

Additionally, while I felt I could statistically justify the entire removal of weapon damage (instead having the only weapon distinctions be focused on manuevers), that didn’t feel “right” either for a high fantasy campaign, what with all the tropes that center on weapons. To say nothing of what that decision might mean for magic weapon bonuses, etc...

So I went back to the gameworld and came away with the rather obvious assumption that if you had two fighters of the same skill and armor, the one with the better weapon had the upper hand.

This confirmed my feeling that weapons needed some degree of variation, but how to accomplish this without breaking the existing dice mechanics, and doesn’t slow down play pacing past counting up the dice you throw?

...To Be Continued?

Well, I did come up with the current “right” answer.  I feel it’s “right” because this new (latest?) method for handling weapon damage also addresses (or plays nicely with)...

  • Enchanted weapon bonuses
  • Pointing to opportunities for different types of weapon damage other than “just” +1, +2, along with potential to deal with high-powered artifacts
  • Doesn’t appear to slow down combat resolution
  • Effects of armor and enchanted armor
  • Provides different grades of weapon damage (not 9 different ones, but still)
  • Doesn’t appear to blow up the current 1 stress = 10hp conversion scale
  • Gives players a sense of “ohhh, this is gonna be GOOOD” or “ohhhh, this is gonna be BAAAD” when the dice are picked up

So, anyone interested in hearing specifics?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

[Anglerre] Gettin' Medieval

So! Because I just listened to this Yog-Sothoth podcast recording of the Cubicle 7 panel from Dragonmeet and my name was mentioned, I figure I can go ahead and talk about this thing I'm working on.

It's a supplement for Legends of Anglerre focused on France in the early-ish Middle Ages, from the crowning of Charlemagne in 768 to the crowning of William the Conqueror (or "the Bastard," depending on your political affiliations) in 1066. There's a lot going on in those 300-ish years, and I don't know if I've ever seen an RPG product that's really tried to cover it.

We're going for a mostly historical version of France, but with mythical and otherwise supernatural elements included as easily integrated options. Magic will be handled as the people of the time would've understood it -- i.e., largely concerned with demons, and the consorting therewith. The alchemy fad hadn't really hit Europe yet, but contact with the East was pretty common, so we'll likely include some material on that, too. Of course, the LOA magic system makes this a pretty simple thing to do, so whatever your magic preferences, it probably won't take up much of the book (because it won't need to).

Some things you can expect to do with this material:
  • Fight off Saracens as Charlemagne's paladins
  • Investigate injustice as members of the missi dominici
  • Defend Paris from Vikings (or try, anyway)
  • Take up arms in one of many civil wars
  • Hunt down long-lost (or stolen!) relics
  • Battle the Tarasque
  • Betray Roland!
  • And much, much more which isn't so combat-oriented, honest
Anyway, I'm super-excited about it and neck-deep in research, which accounts for my long periods of silence on the ol' blog(s) here. That high-school French is really paying off!