Archive for September 2015

DayTrippers: Core Rules Review

Disclosure: I know Tod Foley from G+, we've talked a bunch, Melissa and I both provided feedback on this and the GM's Guide, and Tod has provided feedback on some of our products. We received digital copies of this for our help, not for review purposes.

DayTrippers is a standalone role-playing game, with the tagline "A Surreal Science Fiction Reality-Hopping RPG". It is written and designed by Tod Foley of As If Productions. This is going to be a two-parter review, starting with the Core Rules (part two will be the GameMaster's Guide).

The pdf weighs in at just over 40 pages. Layout-wise it makes good use of horizontal rules and shaded boxes, both things I find oddly missing in indie products given how simple they are to implement. The art is sparse, black and white, and generally of decent quality (it's Creative Commons, so I wasn't expecting much anyway).

The writing is where the game really shines. All of it is exceptionally well-written, especially the Introduction, which you can read in full, for free, on the DriveThru product page using the preview links (you can actually read up to page 12 with the Full Preview, which will see you all the way through character generation). I both encourage and would not be surprised if Tod started writing fiction.

Hell, take a page from Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, and write collections of stories centered around the exploits of various DayTripper teams (you could even put them on DriveThruFiction).

The world isn't anything you haven't seen in a near-future setting dominated by megacorps and advertising. Skimming the book made me think of Blade Runner, Dredd, and Shadowrun, just with time/space/dimensional travel, and a paragraph on page 7 specifically mentions that it's somewhere between 2001 and Idiocracy", both of which are entertaining "research" materials.

Mind you this isn't a bad thing. Given that the characters will be hopping over to other planets, alternate timelines, dreamworlds, and so on, I actually prefer the "home base" backdrop to be something everyone can easily imagine: it's not like you won't have plenty of opportunities to flex your creative muscles.

Characters & Premise
Characters in DayTrippers are themselves called DayTrippers. DayTrippers use vehicles called SlipShips to VectorSlip (or just "slip") through time and/or space in order to travel to other planets, dream worlds, alternate timelines, and the Multiversal Chao, a "whirling pandimensional maelstrom comprised of every type of energy from all universes, some collapsed into physicality, some in various phases of morphogenesis or demorphication".

Reasons for doing so include exploring a newly discovered set of spacetime coordinates, escorting tourists, or even rescuing another DayTripper team. Pages 37-38 has examples for the Mission, Node (ie, location), and opposition types, as well as perks, rewards, and complications. There's even a way you can have the players make rolls to add, remove, or change the mission parameters.

Each character is built using a number of Character Points, which is spent on your stats, skills, gear (which can include a SlipShip), and starting rank and fame. You can also use CP to hire additional NPC crewmembers. In a "normal" game you start with 100 CP, but the GM can increase or reduce this amount. If for whatever reason you want more CP, you can opt to go into debt to gain more (just be sure to pay off your debts in a timely manner).

If you want to get the dice rolling quickly, there's a "Short Form Characters" sidebar on page 9 that gives you six sets of quick-stats, page 17 has six generic characters, and pages 35 and 36 has premade SlipShips.

In addition to stats and skills, LifeShaping events also, well, shape your character. They can be introduced before the game starts, during play, or during downtime. There are eight types of LifeShaping events, like Belief, Concept, Duty, and History, and you can have up to twelve of them. The benefit of a LifeShaper is that, if its deemed applicable to your situation, you get to add another die.

The core mechanic of the game is that you roll one or more six-siders, add a bonus, and try to beat a target number.

To break it down, you have stats like Brains, Charm, Grace, Health, and so on, each rated from 1 (all stats start here) to 6. You also have skills and gear, which are in turn rated from 0 to 6. When you wanna do something, you roll a number of dice equal to your stat, choose the highest result, and then add any applicable skill and gear modifiers.

Difficulties are rated from 1 (no-brainer) to 10 (insane). So, the best a character with a stat of 1 can hope for is to beat a 5 (hard), and that's assuming they rolled a 6. Failure and success isn't so black and white, however: if you fail by more than 1 point, you flat out fail and something bad happens, but if you fail by just 1 point, you still fail, though something positive also happens.

In this way it reminds me a bit of Dungeons & Dragons mixed with some Dungeon World, but with the glut of Powered by the Apocalypse games coming out nowadays I'm really pleased to see someone trying something different. If you want to port the game to another system (including Powered by the Apocalypse and d20 games), there's conversion notes in the back.

The Conclusion
I don't play very many science fiction games. The Mass Effect and Half-Life series springs to mind, as does Portal and Portal 2, and I had a brief stint with Civilization: Beyond Earth. I very rarely watch sci-fi shows. I think the last one was Doctor Who, and before that Melissa and I binged Fringe. The only science fiction I've read was maybe part of an Isaac Asimov story, and it was so long ago I forget what it was called.

It it helps at all, it had robots.

What I'm getting at is that this isn't really a game for me, but if you like sci-fi roleplaying games I think this could easily be a game for you. It's well written and designed, and caters to a variety of playstyles: you could run something like Firefly, where the DayTrippers do odd jobs, get paid, and try to keep their SlipShip going, or maybe something more inline with Shadowrun, where the DayTrippers are hired to obtain Node coordinates, assassinate DayTripper teams, and/or steal artifacts recovered from a Node.

Personally if I were GMing this game, I'd probably do something like Alien, and have the DayTripper team get picked off one by one by a terrible monster they inadvertently picked up while exploring a Node. I could also see Half-Life, where aliens from another dimension "slip" into Earth. Maybe do something akin to Doom, or just throw some Lovecraftian shit in there.

In terms of product support, in addition to the GM Guide there's also a pair of adventures that you can pick up for a buck-fifty each (though you can also snag them at a slightly reduced price as part of a Starter Set bundle).

After only a couple hours of design and writing, The Swordmage is good to go. If you want a solid fighter/wizard hybrid with twenty-five advanced moves to choose from (in addition to some other extras), pick it up.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out!

Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance!

Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.
September 29, 2015
Posted by David Guyll

Until Dawn Review

Trigger Warnings: Spoilers, Misogyny, Transmisogyny, Internalized Misogyny, Trigger Warnings, Externalized Misogyny, Transpoilers, Pansexualphobia, Straight White Men, Homophobia, Transphobia, Toxic Masculinity, Male Gaze, Heteronormitivitivity, Mansplaining, Literal Rape, Racism, Unchecked Privilege, Implied Rape, Sexist Weather, Cultural Appropriation, Oppression, Objectification, Ableism, Supplied Rape, Bropression, Neglect Rape, and Masculine Toxicity. 

Until Dawn is a survival horror game that centers around a group of eight teenagers, who return to a mountain resort one year after the death of a couple of their friends (spoilers). Their goal is to have a good time and move past the events of the previous year, but they end up becoming stranded and must survive "until dawn".

The game shares some similarities with Heavy Rain, namely that it routinely saves after certain events and decisions, which is intended to prevent you from reloading to correct mistakes or change your mind (though you totally can if you're fast enough), and that action sequences are handled using a series of quick-time events.

It also uses what the developers call the "Butterfly Effect" system, in which decisions made can have consequences down the line. You can find various types of totems throughout the game, which can sometimes clue you in on possible outcomes, but they aren't always clear. I know that decisions in Heavy Rain could also impact the story, but I don't remember how far reaching they went, or what the number of possible plot branches were.

Frankly though none of that matters, because despite the incredible quality of the story (which has twists that M. Night Shamwow could take a lesson from), graphics, animation, and voice acting, this is not a game worth celebrating. Given all the grievous social justice violations it commits, it is much, much better suited as a triple A example of how not to write characters, in particular women and other minorities.

As the only person of color in this game, I will be made to carry luggage, act unnecessarily aggressive, will do everything I'm told, and will consider abandoning a white woman to save myself. I am also the most difficult character to keep alive.

Technically just over half of the characters in the game are women. This would normally be something worth praising, but the game constantly depicts them as frail, powerless, overly emotional, irrational, conniving, and in need of "the men" to acknowledge, encourage, and even rescue them. This reinforces the mistaken, sexist belief that women can be irrational, overly emotional, conniving, or need help from a man.

In addition, Jessica has low self-esteem, Emily is very cruel (a male character in the game actually refers to her as "too bitchy"), Ashley is cowardly and whiny, and Samantha spends a portion of the game wearing nothing but a towel.

What better attire for investigating a creepy, dark house on the top of a mountain?

It should also be noted that these women all have "ideal" body types. After all, what better to draw in the "male gaze"? None of them are overweight or are missing any appendages. None of them are even trans or gay, traits that would have objectively made them better characters by any standard.

On the topic of marginalized groups, of all the characters only two are minorities, Emily and Matt. Emily used to date Mike, and while there's no reason given for their breakup, given that it happened at most in the course of a year it's a safe bet to assume that Mike only pursued her due to an Asian woman fetish; once he "conquered" and "appropriated" her "culture", he decided to move on.

Now that we've got the characters, such as they are, out of the way, let's talk plot.

At the start of the game most of the characters play a prank on Hannah, one of Josh's sisters. She has a crush on Mike (which reinforces hetero-normative values), and accepts his invitation to meet him in one of the rooms at the resort. Unbeknownst to her, most of the other characters are also there in hiding, preparing to record the entire scene.

Hannah starts to undress in front of Mike, but one of the girls begins to laugh (because of course one of the women has to fuck it up), and in tears she flees the house, barely dressed, in the middle of the snowstorm (remember, women are irrational). Beth, Hannah's sister, goes after her alone, because no one else could be bothered to help, and why would they? It's just a few women out there, in a hostile environment, all alone.

Anyway, once she finds Hannah they're chased by an unseen creature, and both fall off a cliff to their deaths. Well, not really: Hannah survives, but you don't realize it right away (spoilers).

Just to recap, the game opens by having women treat each other cruelly, make irrational decisions, and then just kills two of them off purely to serve as Josh's motivation for revenge. Again, this reinforces how our Patriarchal society thinks of and treats women: they're irrational, overly emotional, and ultimately disposable (there's no way to save them). As you'll see in a moment, it's also a prime example of the women in refrigerators trope.

A year later the characters return to the resort at Josh's request, under the pretense of wanting them all to have a good time and try to move on after last year's events. While they're there, strange incidents continue to occur. Initially the game tries to get you to believe both that there's a masked psychopath on the loose, and that the resort is haunted by the ghosts of Beth and Hannah.

It is eventually revealed that most of the incidents were orchestrated by Josh (spoiler), who was trying to scare the other characters as part of his "revenge game", as he believes that they were responsible for the death of his sisters. This is a prime example of toxic masculinity: at no point does he try to talk with the other characters about his feelings, instead resorting to emotionally tormenting them.

Sorry, but as a straight white man it's the only socially acceptable way for me to deal with my problems.

Near the end of the game you discover that there is in fact a real monster hunting the characters: the wendigo (spoilers). The wendigo is a Native American creature believed to be created when a human resorted to cannibalism. Given that none of the characters, or even the stranger that temporarily assists them (he dies...also, spoilers), is noticeably of Native American descent, this (along with the aforementioned totems) is blatant cultural appropriation.

I'm honestly surprised that it's not wearing leather chaps and an overly large headdress, with antlers.

In case any or all of the above wasn't bad enough (if it's not, please reevaluate your life or kill yourself), here's a list of other infractions:

  • Chris mansplains the butterfly effect to Sam at the start of the game. I think he also manspreads on the cable car.
  • Each of the women is "marked" by clear, "female" "indicators", like lipstick, eyeshadow, and in one case, a skirt. This reinforces the gender stereotype that women "do" and are "supposed" to use and wear those sorts of things.
  • Aside from Chris, who wears glasses, every other character is perfectly handy-capable. At one point Mike can be forced to cut off some of his fingers to free himself from a trap (spoilers). This is not required, and even if you do no one makes a big deal that he's able to defeat the wendigo despite being crippled.
  • Josh mansplains how he set up and executed all of the strange phenomena at the resort, and his reasons for doing so.
  • Mike, an all-too typical macho, straight, white man, is of course the character that contributes the most in destroying the wendigo. It's not like there was a roster of other characters that could have stepped in to save the day.
  • The game puts you in control of the lives of innocent, young girls. It invites you to force them into uncomfortable situations, possibly even killing them at your whim. In other words, the game objectifies them, and strips them of their agency.
  • In a short scene between Mike and Jess, Mike can attempt to get into Jess's pants, despite the fact that she's clearly not ready or willing to have sex. This encourages rape culture.
  • Hannah is one of the wendigo, having resorted to eating her own sister in order to survive (spoilers). The developers are not-so-subtly making a nod towards the sexist stereotype, that for no reason women turn on each other to get what they want.

This game had so much potential to be something actually good, It would have been easy to tweak the characters to appeal to a much broader audience, as opposed to merely straight white men. Instead, the designers took the easy way out, and created yet another game that panders to the undeserving, privileged majority.

I don't know what else to say, except that it's both disappointing and disgusting, especially in this day and age.

The Twist
Given how much I remember disliking Heavy Rain, I was incredibly surprised by how much I enjoyed this game, despite only partially paying attention to Melissa when she played through it the first time. I've since been playing through it on my own, to see if we can save more people this time around (three people died under Melissa's watch).

The positive stuff I said at the start of this article is actually true: it has excellent graphics, animation, voice acting, and plot. Unless you're lucky, it's also a game worth playing more than once, especially if you wanna save everyone and get the, I dunno, "true" ending. If you like horror films and/or Heavy Rain, you'll probably really like this. Even if you don't/didn't, you'll probably still enjoy it.

4Ward/FrankenFourth: Keep on the Shadowfell

  • Embra (1st-level dwarf wizard)
  • Ivanna (1st-level elf ranger)
  • Thirur (1st-level dwarf fighter)

While we wait to see if our weekly group will want to play this game in a "for realsies" campaign (which I don't expect to happen until our current A Sundered World campaign ends/the group really wants to), we decided to convert our kids' characters from our houseruled 4th Edition campaign over and give it a shot.

I'm still using my modded Keep on the Shadowfell, as it has some nicely stocked dungeons for them to crawl. So far they've gone up against a group of skeletons, some skeletal horses, and another group of skeletons plus death cultists (which crashed the party at about the halfway point). The death cultists ran away, and the characters discovered a hidden passage leading into the catacombs running beneath the keep (which will be explored in our next playtest report).

The fight with the four skeletons went pretty smoothly, for the characters anyway: I don't think any of them took Wound damage (ie, damage that takes a long rest to recover). At this point I was still sticking with the number of enemies from my 5th Edition conversion, just replacing the stat blocks.

The next encounter involved four skeletal horses, and was far more difficult as skeletal horses are larger and one level higher (both of which affects base Vitality and Wounds). They still succeeded, albeit barely: Thurir was almost dropped, and Ivanna's cat companion was dropped. I have a persistent injury table for when characters get reduced to 0 or less Wounds and survive, but decided against it (for now).

Since the fighter was low on Wounds and the cat was out, they hunkered in for a long rest. Currently characters don't regain all their Wounds after a good night's sleep, instead regaining an amount based on their Constitution. This means that, for now anyway, you can't just take a long rest and have a completely fresh start the next day. I think a full-recovery is something I'd put in place as an optional rule, for games with smaller-than-usual parties, or if the GM just wants to make things easier.

In order to get a better handle on whether characters have "enough" Vitality and Wounds, I decided to throw six skeletons at them in the next encounter. Once they'd taken half of them out, I had a trio of death cultists enter the fray. They're pretty pathetic, being able to take only a combined 8 points of damage and dealing only 1d4 on the off chance they hit.

I'm considering giving characters a +1 to hit at 1st-level, with whatever it is they're "supposed" to be using: fighters would get it for weapon attacks, rangers for melee or ranged weapons (you'd have to choose at the start of the game), wizards with magical attacks, etc. Currently everyone has decent odds of hitting most of the time (at least 55% or better), but they seemed to be rolling fairly poorly most of the time (7 or less).

Even so, the fights started and ended really quickly, which after playing a session or two of un-houseruled 4th Edition is a huuuge plus. I might also change the wizard's evocation magic to deal half damage on a miss, since she's gotta take damage in order to use it in the first place, and it kind of sucks to only make 2-4 attacks in a fight, only to have one or two of the attacks actually hit.

Image Dump

After only a couple hours of design and writing, The Swordmage is good to go. If you want a solid fighter/wizard hybrid with twenty-five advanced moves to choose from (in addition to some other extras), pick it up.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out!

Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance!

Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.

4Ward/FrankenFourth Playtest

A few players had to again cancel our A Sundered World campaign, so I figured Melissa and I could run through a playtest of yet another game we're working on. This one uses elements from our dice-pool dungeon crawler (like simple-yet-flexible characters), and various editions of Dungeons & Dragons (mostly the d20 mechanic and simplified skill ranks).

She suggested asking the players that were still available if they wanted to give it a shot, and we managed to rope one in, This was good, as it allowed me to see what someone who was unfamiliar with the rules and design process would do, what they would hate about it, what questions would be asked, and so on.

Given that I thought the whole thing would largely be a one-shot, with more rigorous playtesting being done on our end—at least until we conclude playtesting on Dungeons & Delvers (which is basically done, just needs art), and Maria's Persona/Dungeons & Delvers hack—I opted to keep things simple and dust off an old, heavily modded "classic": Keep on the Shadowfell.

The Rick-Roll of adventures.
My plan was to skip most of the adventure, since I'd want to replace the kobolds and dragon with something else, and just drop them at the titular dungeon locale. This way they could get immediately to exploring, fighting, and looting. Buuut, between the questions, and discussing equipment, ideas for new character options, the merits of characters with elaborate backgrounds, running a long-term campaign with this system, and the "fail" results from various game systems, we only ended up getting through a pair of encounters.

My thoughts, at the conclusion of a couple piles of bones and rusted armor, were that combat was really fast, but given all the natural 1's I rolled more playtesting will be needed to determine if the whole low-Defense/armor-as-damage-reduction/split-hit-point thing is working as expected. Melissa thinks so, but Adam is concerned that the "best" character build will just ramp up Dexterity to avoid getting hit at all (a simple fix, I think, is to have heavier armor cap your Dexterity bonus).

At any rate, Adam seems to really dig what little bit we did play, to the point where he wants me to run Keep on the Shadowfell, Thunderspire Labyrinth, and so on using this game. I'm all for this, as it would let me actually use those adventures (including all the changes I made, of course).

After only a couple hours of design and writing, The Swordmage is good to go. If you want a solid fighter/wizard hybrid with twenty-five advanced moves to choose from (in addition to some other extras), pick it up.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out!

Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance!

Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.

An Essential Sandbox: Session 4 Play Report

D&D: Frankenstein's Monster Edition
  • Embra (3rd-level dwarf evocation mage)
  • Livina (3rd-level dragonborn inspiring warlord)
  • Paion (3rd-level human sun warpriest)
  • Thirur (3rd-level dwarf axe slayer)

The party arrived at Gillmore Estate. They knew that it had been overtaken by a group of bandits, but had no idea how many, nor their capabilities. They scouted the exterior from a distance, but didn't see anything: it had taken them a day or so to make the trip, so maybe they'd already left?

They carefully approached the front, but rather than try the door Thirur and Livina scaled the balcony. Once they were about halfway up, a pair of archers appear and began loosing arrows. Embra used her magic to provide suppressing fire, while Paion mounted the horse that had been left outside and literally kicked in the front door.

After Thirur and Livina made it up, it was a simple matter to take out the archers: one was slain, but they managed to capture and interrogate the other. They learned that there were about two dozen other bandits, and that they had trained wolves, including a dire wolf. Satisfied that he was telling the truth, they tied him up and left him in the wagon.

The party explored the manor, incinerating a large group in the dining hall, before confronting their leader. He initially hung back, assuming that his lackeys and wolves could handle the party, but after a few were slaughtered and Embra dropped a cyclone of fire on him entered the fray. The narrow hall and their smaller numbers proved advantageous, preventing them from being overwhelmed and keeping Embra safe from harm.

After the leader fell, they gathered up the corpses to show proof of their deed once they returned to Black Hollow, and went about looting the house: they discovered the butchered remains of the previous owners in the basement, which meant that they wouldn't miss anything.

Behind the Scenes
This ended up being a short session, and didn't have the social roleplaying that Melissa had initially hoped for. We normally try and keep the adventures simple, giving the kids very clear choices, but over the past few sessions we've tried to see if they've learned to check for traps, listen at doors, talk to the bad guys, etc.

But, we ended up starting late and it went on longer than expected, so we had to kind of rush through it.

Next session I'm going to implement even more houserules, to the point where it might as well be a new game. It is because of this I'm going to run another session to illustrate the changes to Melissa, who was just starting to get the handle on 4th Edition's rules.

We've already removed feats, and I took to upgrading the wizard's existing spells instead of giving her more (which would be more annoying to track). I figured that I could give her new spells whenever she'd get a new daily, though honestly I was considering making all spells usable by the encounter (which is more inline with actually Vancian magic).

I'd initially intended to take things incrementally, modding the system step by step over the course of play. Instead we're going to make a number of sweeping changes, based on what Melissa and I want in a system. Here are a few:

  • Hit points are getting split into two pools: one will replenish quickly, and represent exhaustion, minor wounds, and the like, while the other will recover much more slowly, and represent physical damage.
  • Ability scores aren't going to be a number and a modifier (ie, 12 means +1, 14 means +2, etc). Instead they're just a modifier.
  • No feats.
  • Skill proficiency start out at +1, and when you level up you can boost one skill by +1, up to +5 (though I'm considering forcing you to choose between a skill bump, or give you a skill bump every 2 levels). You add these to an ability score to determine your total bonus when attempting a task.
  • Tasks won't scale by level: as with 3E and 5E, there's going to be one chart to determine general difficulty.
  • Little-to-no automatically scaling math. Instead of 4E's +1 per two levels, or 13th Age's +1 every level, or even 5E's +2 at the start, then +1 now and then, most things are going to be based off your raw stats. Some classes will get bonuses here and there, like a fighter and weapon attacks, but monster defenses won't get super high anyway.
  • Races will usually give you passive mods that are folded into your other stats, giving you little to bother keeping track of. When you level up you can choose race talents, allowing you to better control how much race impacts your character.
  • Classes will normally start with a couple things, and then each level you choose something. Some class features will be simple, like a damage bonus, others will be more complicated, but the ultimate goal is to let you you better decide how much complex shit you wanna track.
  • XP is getting drastically reduced. Instead of tracking individual XP from monsters, I'm going to do something more inline with Numenera and Dungeon World: overcoming a meaningful challenge is worth 1, discovering a magic item, looting noteworthy treasure, and the like is worth 1 XP, each time. Not sure how much XP will be necessary to level up, but later editions of Dungeons & Dragons tend to assume 10 encounters per level, but since this will give you XP for finding loot and such, I'll probably make it something like 15 XP per level, or 15+level.

Here's the current, barebones stat block for a typical bandit:

Level 1 Medium Humanoid (Human)

Ability Scores 
STR +1 DEX +1 WIS 0
CON +1 INT 0 CHA 0

Intimidate +1, Stealth +2

Fort 11 Ref 11 Will 10
Armor 1 (leather)
Wounds 5 Vitality 4

Longsword +1 to hit; 1d8+1 damage

Since characters can feasibly get a decent amount of Armor (biggest thing is plate, which is worth 6 or 7), I'm considering using and modding the mob attack rules from Dungeons & Delvers (which I kind of cribbed from Super Dungeon Explore), so that enemies can essentially do a single, combined attack that gets +1 to hit and deals +1 damage per additional attacker.

So instead of, say, six goblins rolling something like +1 to hit and 1d6 damage (assuming no Strength bonus and a short sword), there would be one attack roll that would have +6 to hit and deal 1d6+5 damage if it hits. That way, when you get plate you don't just become immune to certain attacks.

Image Dump

After only a couple hours of design and writing, The Swordmage is good to go. If you want a solid fighter/wizard hybrid with twenty-five advanced moves to choose from (in addition to some other extras), pick it up.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out!

Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance!

Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.

Dungeon World: Dealing With Dealing Damage

Someone tagged me in a private post about a month ago, asking how I handle characters dealing lots of damage.

He said that he'd seen the issue brought up multiple times in the Dungeon World Tavern, but always got inadequate non-solutions, like reducing the character's damage output, or concocting scenarios in which it would be difficult for them to do what their character is supposed to do.

I don't go to the Tavern anymore, and I've never seen anyone else bring it up, but in my experience a problematic damage-to-hit-point-ratio is usually less to do with the character dealing lots of damage, and more about the way monsters are statted.


Quality Control
I made the mistake of allowing poorly designed third-party classes in a previous game, with frustrating results, and have played in games where a variety of utterly terrible classes were present. So, at least when I'm the GM, I only permit the official classes, ones that we've made, and occasionally a class that I've had the chance to review (like Chris's slayer in our Ravenloft game).

This way I have a good idea as to what the characters are capable of, and don't have to address balance issues (whether it's dealing more damage than a fighter, taking a +1 to basically anything with minimal to no cost, or just being able to out-right kill something no matter what you roll) and/or arguments mid-game.

By removing the abundance of questionable classes from the equation, that just leaves us with monster stats. In most cases monsters going down too quickly can be handled by simply adding more to the mix. After all, the horde tag doesn't mention numbers at all (though it really should), and group gives you a range of either "about 2-5" or "3-6 or so", depending on if you're looking at page 222 or 224.

But what about solitary monsters? They remind me of many 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons encounters, where you run into a single ogre, troll, or dragon, and everyone just gangs up on it because there's nothing else to do. The best part was that if you had at least two melee characters, you'd easily get a flanking bonus, which was made even better if someone had rogue levels.

Though Dungeon World lacks explicit turns and flanking, it's still the same principle: you run up to the monster, maybe defy danger to get up close (depending on "the fiction", description of how you're going about it, and the whims of the GM), and at that point you're really only worrying about not getting a miss while you slap it around.

Now, before I talk solutions I want to talk numbers, specifically in regards to...

The 16(?) Hit Point Dragon
If you play Dungeon World, you've probably heard of the "16 hit point dragon". If you haven't, Google it and then come back. My very short response is that it's bullshit. It reminds me of Tucker's Kobolds, only worse, because Dungeons & Dragons uses dice rolls with specific consequences; in Dungeon World the GM can "officially" make consequences as significant as he wants.

I know the poster doesn't go into a lot of detail, but I've thrown dragons at my players before in our Sundered World campaigns (though they had a more accurate amount of HP), and while they've come out on top both times it's either just barely, or at the cost of someone's life (and in one case, nearly their ship). I'll also note that at no time were the players thinking that the fight was easy, or lacked tension.

Here's some very simple math:

A 2nd-level fighter can constantly deal 1d10+1+1d4 damage, in addition to the 2 piercing tag. This gives us an average damage of 9. Reduce this by 3, and the fighter is doing about 6 damage a hit, which is more than enough to kill the fabled 16-hp-dragon, on his own, in three hits (or two if he's lucky).

Of course the fighter is most certainly not alone: you've probably got a cleric and/or bard that can heal you, or give you a constant bonus (there's no reason to assume that a bard would bother attacking it on his own), a wizard and/or ranger that can make ranged attacks, a thief that can try backstabbing it (with poison, even), and so on.

Really there are only two concerns. The first is maybe defying danger to avoid whatever it is that the GM thinks the terrifying tag does (there's no explicit effect or guidelines). The second is the wings, as the dragon can just turn tail and flee before it dies. Therefore, go for the wings to try and keep it grounded (having a weapon with the messy tag might help).

Here's some more, also very simple math:

The dragon (Dungeon World, page 300) has 16 hit points. How? A solitary creature has a base of 12 HP, and the huge tag adds +8, so it should have at least 20. There's also some sort of endurance thing you can add to it, which would give it another 4 HP, for a grand total of 24, which is frankly more on par with what you'd expect out of a dragon.

Unfortunately, even a dragon with an actually accurate 20-24 HP can still get taken out pretty easily, by even a low-level party, because as I said above...

...Solitary Sucks
In a game that Ben ran a looong time ago, we had to find a tablet that had been stolen by goblins. They were holed up in a cave. We went there, beat them up, and found out that they served a bandit prince. We confronted him, alone, and my character killed him in one hit. He never even scratched us. This was because Ben had given him the solitary tag, which explicitly states that "it lives and fights alone".

The easiest solution is to stop thinking of the solitary tag literally. I mean, it's not like the book even sticks to its own definition: the formian queen is pegged as a solitary, but "...sits protected by her guard, served by every drone and taskmaster..." Instead, interpret it as signifying a kind of "boss" monster: they're tougher and deal more damage, but probably still need some minions to keep the pressure on the adventurers, soak up hits, and provide easier rationales for soft/hard moves.

This worked really well when Melissa ran playtests for The Skeleton, and in my Expedition to Castle Ravenloft in Dungeon World campaign, I made sure to have a group of ghouls on tap for when they finally confronted Strahd (not that they helped, thanks to Shane's goddamn holy hand grenade). When the characters confronted a powerful wrath devil in A Sundered World, it was a one-on-one fight, and he had reinforcements waiting in case the other characters decide to jump in.

Of course, depending on the monster reinforcements might not make any sense. If the monster doesn't have a shitload of HP and Armor, you could always have it attack when a character is all alone, or maybe when there's only two. Take the choker: it stands no chance against a party, but against one or two characters it might actually be able to do something meaningful before getting slaughtered.

Something that I haven't tried, but was suggested, is to heap on the hit points. Some will cry that it's "not official", or that you're "cheating", but it's bullshit because in the back of the book there's mention of asking questions that can simply result in adding more HP and/or damage (which I'll get to in a bit). So, if you're afraid that the fighter is going to utterly slaughter your monster in a couple hits, try tacking on some more HP.

Avoid Armor
Something to avoid is adding unnecessary Armor. I'd go so far as to say that, at least for group and horde monsters, you might want to cap it at 2 for horde, and 3 for group. Keep in mind that at 3+, classes with lower damage dice (ie, d4 and d6) will be nearly useless: a monster with an Armor of 4 can only be harmed by a wizard using attack spells (though magic missile still has decent odds of not doing anything), and even a cleric or thief won't deal any damage about half the time.

We ran into this problem during an A Sundered World playtests involving Antikythera's Legion: going strictly by the book, they all ended up having an Armor of 3 (I find it strange that mail on monsters is worth 2 Armor, instead of 1). Now, an Armor of 3 might not sound like a big deal, until you see it attached to horde/group monster with 7-11 HP: imagine the grind of characters trying to hack through a dozen or so of those guys.

As a side note, this is why the wizard from A Sundered World has a d6 damage die: they're probably not going to be hack-and-slashing solo style very often (or very well), but if they do, at least this way there's a better chance some damage will be dealt. That's just with weapons, mind you: their magical attack starts at d8 (but exhausts them), and you can opt to focus on offense as you level up.

I will say that for solitary monsters, adding Armor can be totally fine. I usually try to get them around the 4-5 range, especially if I think they're going to be encountered alone. That way they'll be able to dish out some punishment before going down.

Oh, one last thing...

Fuck The Rules
Aaall the way in the back of the book, in Advanced Delving, there's almost an entire page on modifying monsters.

It claims that a more "interesting change is to change the questions being asked", but instead of providing an example of changing a question, it just adds a new one (why is the monster evil). The ironically funny part is that, for a game that tells you that simple modifiers aren't interesting/fictionally ideal, each of the three options give it a big damage bonus, a big hit point boost, or both.

The point I'm trying to make is it's totally fine to say "fuck it" to the Making Monster rules: just give a monster whatever stats you think make the most sense and/or will result in the most fun.

After all, it's not like the book even stands by the math/fiction: the description of the dragon says that "they're the greatest and most terrible things this world will ever have to offer", which I guess could be true if you ignore the objectively more badass, yet oddly not terrifying apocalypse dragon.

After only a couple hours of design and writing, The Swordmage is good to go. If you want a solid fighter/wizard hybrid with twenty-five advanced moves to choose from (in addition to some other extras), pick it up.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out!

Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance!

Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.

The Heart of Hemskil: Episode 104

  • Gardia (3rd-level human fighter)
  • Lydell (3rd-level dwarf wizard)
  • Sinzed (3rd-level human fighter/wizard)

They knew that their equipment was likely to be in the armory, and that Cattiva's bed chamber was all the way at the top of the tree fort. This narrowed down the number of places they would need to search in order to retrieve their possessions and, hopefully, Cattiva's crown.

Their situation was still much less than ideal, however, as they had to live long enough to get to their gear, and they were still wounded, vastly outnumbered, and trapped within a magical faerie fortress. Even worse, Cattiva had bested them when they were at their best: they'd have to decide whether to again confront him, or risk the wrath of the Rat King later.

From their position they could see that the room beyond was filled with, near as they could tell, at least a half-dozen guards. They had no way of accurately knowing how long they'd been detained, but the guards seemed to still be in various stages of inebriation: it was clear that their captors had not anticipated their escape.

Not wanting to raise an alarm, they figured their best bet was to try and sneak into the armory. Unfortunately they only had a single cloak between them, which when combined with the guards' inattention would hopefully allow whoever they sent to avoid notice. None of them were particularly adept at sneaking, so Gardia volunteered, and slowly entered the room as surreptitiously as she could.

Gardia had no idea which door was the armory, so chose one at random. When she was nearly there it opened. She froze as a faerie exited, locked the door, and then walked across the room and passed through through the other door. Bashing wasn't an option, so she followed him into a hall lined with doors on both sides. She watched him enter one, but before she could act a hand tapped her on the shoulder.

She slowly turned about, but before her mind could formulate a most certainly ludicrous, ineffectual explanation, a sword point lightly pricked her throat. The faerie recognized her, and while he pondered whether to slaughter her outright she quickly drew her own sword. The fight was quick, but Gardia was not as proficient with a one-handed blade, and her opponent managed to get in few blows of his own before she slew him.

Gardia bandaged his wounds so that he wouldn't leave a trail of blood behind them. She then hoisted him onto her back, so that it looked like she was merely lugging someone who'd passed out from the festivities, and returned to the guard room to explain what happened to her companions. Figuring it was best to not split up anymore, Sinzed donned the other cloak, and then they made an act of carrying Lydell through the chamber and into the barracks.

They silently entered the quartermaster's room, murdered him in his sleep, and took his keys. Since he too had a cloak, Lydell snagged it: while he was distinctly of dwarf-height and -beard, it was better than nothing. Together they made their way to the armory. Gardia fumbled with the keys for a bit, and when they made it through the doors they noticed a pair of faeries following them.

Sinzed quickly locked the doors, and they went about checking nearby rooms. One was a forge, which contained Sinzed's shield, and both his and Gardia's weapons and armor. Apparently they had planned to use them for raw materials. The next room was the actual armory, and heaped in a corner was their gear along with Lydell's staff. By this time the faeries were pounding on the door: now fully equipped, they invited them in.

One of the faeries ran inside, chasing Sinzed around a corner were Lydell ambushed him with magically hurled darts. The other lingered to confront Gardia, much to her dismay, until he heard the screams of his companion. He then rushed past her only to meet the same fate. They dragged the corpses out of sight before returning to the central chamber.

This time what guards remained noticed them immediately, but despite Gardia's wounds they were still grossly outmatched. One of them tried to flee and warn Cattiva, too late, and was slain by Lydell before he made it even halfway up the stairs. They didn't even bother hiding the bodies, instead swiftly ascending the stairs before anyone else showed up.

They passed the dining hall and a library, pausing once they reached a sort of trophy hall. Here there were a variety of banners, shields, suits of armor, weapons, and other odds and ends on display. Lydell shifted his sight so that he could detect magical energies, but only one item registered: Gardia's sword. She wanted to take it, but Lydell also noticed faint strands of magic woven about it: if it was moved an alarm would sound.

She left it, sullen, and they continued on to Cattiva's throne room. It was brilliantly illuminated by numerous windows high above. Long tapestries hung from twisted pillars, and at the back was his throne, perched high above on a dais. Unlike the other floors this one only had two doors, one on each side of the throne. Gardia tried one, but it was sealed and they could see no locks or handles.

As they warily moved across the room to try the other door, Lydell sat on the throne, and moments later Cattiva came storming into the chamber, clad in an unfastened silk robe and nothing else. His eyes burned, literally, as he hurled spheres of fire at Lydell. He ducked behind one of the pillars while Sinzed and Gardia, at least relieved that he was so overconfident as to meet them unarmed and unarmored, rushed into melee.

To their astonishment and relief the fight was over within moments, and they were all still alive. Cattiva's body burst into flames, reducing it to ashes. Where he fell, the floor began to grow dark and rot away. It continued to spread outward, showing no signs of slowing or stopping, and they realized that the whole fortress was gradually crumbling apart.

They went into his room and took his crown, which was hanging from one of the posts of his very crowded bed: fortunately the women were more interested in maintaining their decency than fighting.

With the crown in hand they dashed back down the stairs, stopping briefly in the trophy room to retrieve Gardia's sword and snag an ancient suit of armor. As with the members of Cattiva's harem, the other faeries were likewise too busy fleeing for their lives to impede them. Once they'd made it outside, they saw that the exterior of the tree had changed: it was now black and no longer bore any leaves.

It, like Cattiva, was dead.

Behind the Scenes
I was really pleased with how the characters handled themselves, given their predicament: they weren't typically armed, were missing one or more Wounds (and Gardia was stuck with all of one for most of the session), had no idea where they were and only a vague idea as to where they needed to go, and were greatly outnumbered.

They played it safe and smart, and managed to not only get Cattiva's crown, but also defeat him. The fight didn't take too long, as he was naked, only had 4 Wounds, and was all by his lonesome. I expected neither of these things to happen, as my general GMing style is to just think of something for the players to do and let them sort it out.

When I initially started designing Dungeons & Delvers, talent bonuses started at a d4. I had no idea how much they would affect a character's average (since you don't keep all the dice you roll), but figured it was certainly better than nothing. After playing a playtest session or two, one of the players felt that a d6 was better suited for a base talent; I agreed and changed them all.

I have since found out that even adding a seemingly meager 1d4 to a Pool increases the average by a couple points. So, all talents have been reverted back to starting out by adding a 1d4, with subsequent ranks scaling it up to a d6, and finally a d8.

Anywho, here's Melissa's current character sheet:

After only a couple hours of design and writing, The Swordmage is good to go. If you want a solid fighter/wizard hybrid with twenty-five advanced moves to choose from (in addition to some other extras), pick it up.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out!

Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance!

Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.

An Essential Sandbox: Session 3 Play Report

  • Embra (2nd-level dwarf evocation mage)
  • Meira (2nd-level gnome cunning bard)
  • Thirur (2nd-level dwarf axe slayer)

About a week after their return to Black Hollow, Embra and Thirur were approached by Meira, a gnome bard. She told them that a madness was slowly gripping the people and animals of Aston, a small village several days to the east.

There were numerous hills to the northwest of the village. Based on the descriptions she had receieved, she believed that someone had discovered a burial cairn, opened it, and disturbed a draugr: a powerful undead creature that, in addition to driving the living insane, could grow in size and transform into smoke. They agreed, and after purchasing a wagon and horse with their recently acquired trove, set out.

A few days and a wolf encounter later, they came across the burial mound. It was shrouded in a dense mist, which blocked out most of the sunlight and made it difficult to see more than a dozen or so feet. As they approached, they spotted several dead bodies. Three were human, huddled around an old firepit. The forth was a horse, which looked to have been partially eaten by the men, though they weren't sure if it was out of desperation, madness, or a combination of both.

On close inspection, Meira noticed that one of them was clutching a sack to its chest. She pried its arms apart and took it, but before she could open it the corpse lunged at her, and in a cracking, hollow voice demanded that she return it. Panicked, Meira used her magic to confound the zombie's senses, causing it to stumble directly into the arc of Thirur's axe.

He easily hacked it apart, but the other corpses, including the horse, rose. The zombies staggered towards Meira, continually demanding the sack, while the horse hammered Thirur into the ground with its powerful hooves. Embra unleashed a blast of fire, engulfing all of the undead in flames. The human zombies crumbled apart, but the horse continued to fight until Thirur managed to regain his footing and behead it.

As the flames died down, Meira checked the bag. It was filled with hundreds of small silver pieces embossed with strange signs and a cross. They looked old, which meant they probably belonged to the draugr. They also looked valuable, so she opted to keep them, figuring that they were just going to ultimately destroy the creature anyway.

They circled the mound and found only one entrance, sealed by a heavy stone slab. Thurir heaved it aside and they entered the first chamber. It contained an open, empty stone sarcophagus, surrounded by sacks, wrapped bundles, clay jars, old weapons, and animal skulls. Two more slabs leaned against two of the walls.

Nothing looked to be of any particular value, so they chose another slab at random. But, when Thurir went to move it, it toppled over and shattered on the ground. Oh well: the draugr wasn't in its sarcophagus, so it was likely already aware of their presence. The next chamber was filled with the putrefied remains of some eight would-be graverobbers. Their faces bore expressions of fear and sorrow, and bloody messages were scrawled on the walls.

Unlike the first batch of corpses, none of them were holding anything of value. They were preparing to leave when a deafening howl echoed through chamber, and mist began seeping inside. Soon after a figure materialized behind Meira. It was clad in ancient, battered armor, and its flesh was rotten. It accused her of stealing its treasure, and when she tried inquiring as to who it was, it drew its sword and attacked.

Meira managed to scamper away, while Thirur charged into the fray. Embra hung back, striking it with magic missiles. Once she was confident that it was focused on Thirur and Embra, Meira slid about behind it and began slicing at its legs. It fell to its knees, releasing another deafening scream before dissipating into mist.

Just when they thought they were somewhat safe, the skeletons rose and began clawing at them. Compared to the draugr they were quite frail: Embra's icy blasts were able to take out several at a time, and even Meira found that she was able to easily chop them apart with her magically enhanced blade.

Behind the Scenes
This time I took over GM duties, giving Melissa a chance to try out a character of her own and see how I run the game. She wanted to play a supporting character, and when I listed off the leaders decided on bard (which, as it turns out, she was banking on playing anyway). Despite having silly singing powers, the bard was as fun as I remember (and more fun than bards from other editions/games).

To keep things simple for the kids, rather of giving them a separate level 2 utility to track I folded the benefits of one into their stats. So, instead of the slayer gaining an exploit that gives him temp hp, I just boosted his hit points a bit, and instead of giving the wizard shield (+4 to AC and Reflex against a single attack), I just bumped up her AC and Reflex by a point.

In actual play the game runs just as quickly as Dungeon World, if not quicker due to not having to take the time to come up with soft/hard moves. In fact I'd say that things went faster, since misses don't result in the characters getting potentially boned even harder, such as by having gear lost or damaged (and having to take the time to defy danger to retrieve it, or think of some other way to fight back).

Of course, I can always houserule this stuff in on the fly if I really feel like it. I guess I kind of did: during the first fight, I had the wolves pull a few of the characters out of the wagon. Not "legal", but it made the fight fun and tense, and made sense.

Even better, the game doesn't feel as immediately or accidentally as lethal as Dungeon World.

For example, the horde tag just says, "Where there's one, there's more. A lot more." There's no number range given (unlike group, which is 3-5 "or so"), and one horde monster can differ greatly from another. For example, a cave rat deals 1d6 damage (1 piercing and messy), and has 7 HP, and an Armor of 1, while a shadow has a whopping 11 HP, 4 Armor, and deals 1d6+1 damage.

Even worse it has the special quality "shadow form", which has no established capabilities or limitations, instead being entirely up to the GM. It could mean that normal light keeps them at bay, or maybe only only sunlight is sufficient. It could also mean that they can blend in which shadows, or that they're completely immune to non-magical weapons.

I have more to say about Dungeon World monsters (and character damage), but that'll be for another post. Suffice to say, we're really enjoying getting back into whatever the hell type of game you'd call Dungeons & Dragons.

Image Dump

After only a couple hours of design and writing, The Swordmage is good to go. If you want a solid fighter/wizard hybrid with twenty-five advanced moves to choose from (in addition to some other extras), pick it up.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out!

Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance!

Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.

Dungeons & Delvers: The Heart of Hemskil, Episode 103

  • Gardia (3rd-level human fighter)
  • Lydell (3rd-level dwarf wizard)
  • Sinzed (3rd-level human fighter/wizard)

They cautiously entered the room.

Though none of the faeries were visibly armed, the characters knew many were capable of using a variety of magic. Plus, there was no telling how many more were concealed from their sight, or what in the chamber was dangerous to them.

So, between an unknown number of inhabitants, potential-but-likely hidden dangers, multiple floors, and numerous doors, Gardia decided to at least try asking for directions. But, to her frustration, everyone she approached fled: they dashed or flew up the stairs, retreated through doors, and even the nude, water-like women dissipated into the fountain.

Before they could pick a direction and hope for the best, an arrow shattered against Gardia's armor. They looked up, searching for the sniper, and saw a squad of ten armored knights swiftly and quietly stride down the stairs. In a disciplined fashion, they arranged themselves in a semicircle before the characters and ordered them to leave immediately.

Gardia demanded to know where the ruby was, but the guards had no idea what she was talking about. Lydell claimed that the ruby was his, but had been stolen by Cattiva, and he wanted to be taken to him so that he could recover it. The guards were skeptical, but agreed. They escorted them to the second floor, through a garden of trees—both natural and ones that looked to have once been human—then up a vine-choked shaft, and finally ascended a second flight of stairs that lead to a dining hall.

Long tables were crowded with a variety of guests. Some looked humanoid in appearance, or humanoid enough, others beastlike, and still others were hybrids of various proportions. They stared at the characters as they were brought before Cattiva. He looked like the other faeries they'd seen, but was taller and more gaunt, and wore a cruel-looking crown of red wood.

The guards explained that they had come to retrieve a ruby that they claimed to have been stolen. Cattiva waved the guards away, and replied that the ruby was not stolen, but in fact had been fairly traded by the King of Rats. Cattiva mocked them as the characters tried to reason with him, and while he refused to trade for the ruby did agree to tell them where the it was...if they could defeat his champion in one-on-one combat.

Given that he was unhurt and possessed magic, they elected Lydell. Cattiva's champion was a short and wiry creature. His mouth was filled with sharp, crooked teeth, and his beard was stained red. Despite his diminutive size, he was easily able to heft a jagged axe that was much larger than himself. But, for all his fearsome presence Lydell had little trouble besting him: his magic proved to be a nigh impervious defense against the axe, and easily scoured the flesh from the creature's face.

Cattiva looked disapprovingly at his former champion, yawned with boredom, and then told them that he'd placed the ruby in a tree somewhere in the forest. When asked for clarification, he responded by ordering his guards to kill them. Gardia and Sinzed raced for their weapons, but Cattava managed to snatch Gardia's sword and run her through with it. Sinzed and Lydell continued to fight, but against his the combined assault of his knights and archers eventually succumbed to their wounds.

They awoke some time later in a small, square chamber, stripped down to their clothes. The room was illuminated by patches of glowing fungus, and near as they could tell it was made entirely of wood. They were deliberating about a course of action, when a face seemed to grow from the wall. It told them that Lord Cattava had elected to imprison them until they died of starvation or thirst, whichever came first.

An unknowable amount of time passed, and they resigned themselves to consuming the fungus so to at least stave off hunger. After several less than palatable "meals", Gardia discovered that the wood behind one of the patches was somewhat spongy. She frantically pounded and tore at the wall, and over the course of what they could only guess were hours, managed to create a narrow tunnel for them to wriggle their way out.

Using the fungus as a light source, they wandered dark halls until they came across a small room with a pair of faerie guards sitting about a table. They managed to get the drop on them, killing one and capturing the other. They interrogated the survivor, and he told them where Cattiva's personal chamber was, and that most of their possessions were in the armory on the third floor: Cattiva had elected to keep Gardia's magical sword.

They knocked him out and took what armor and weapons they had. They were less than ideally equipped, but it was better than nothing. They'd made it to Cattiva's palace, nearly died, still bore wounds, lost their equipment—including the ancestral blade of Lord Brandenhart—didn't know where they were, still had to fetch Cattiva's crown if they were to forestall the Rat King's wrath, and only had a vague idea as to where the ruby could be.

This job was turning out to be more than 25,000 gold pieces was worth.

Behind the Scenes
Definitely gonna have to reign in the wizard some more: I think the redcap only managed to hit him once. I'm gonna axe the two-handed focus giving +1d6 to magical attacks, as pretty much any focus I can think of, including a staff, could work in one hand, and there's really no reason for a wizard to not take a two-handed focus (since they don't wield weapons or need shields).

I think it'll be fine given that a wizard still starts out more accurate than most characters, rolling 2d8 instead of a 1d8+1d6. The only character combo that can match them is a human with the Skilled talent, and even then only if you apply it to Melee or Ranged. Plus, they can always opt to make ranged attacks, though without the focus will have to drop their best die roll.

Otherwise, still tinkering with monster stats. I finally found a way to get what I think are accurate averages for rolling a bunch of dice and taking the best two, which has been a huuuge help in pegging stats and determining the impact of talent combinations.

After only a couple hours of design and writing, The Swordmage is good to go. If you want a solid fighter/wizard hybrid with twenty-five advanced moves to choose from (in addition to some other extras), pick it up.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out!

Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance!

Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.

Dungeon World: Balancing Fiction And Function

I ran a very short lived campaign quite a while back, where the characters were wandering through a desert and dealing with Lovecraftian cults and monsters (because most of my adventures involve something Lovcraftian in some capacity).

During the first session the players brought up various third-party classes, some of which I'm sure they regret purchasing. Now there are plenty of terribly designed third-party classes out there, but two stood out the most.

The first apparently allows you to instantly kill anything so long as you take a specific "background" and advanced move at 2nd-level: you spend a point of currency to wait for them to fall asleep, let their guard down, or otherwise become defenseless/helpless, and then use the advanced move to instantly turn them to dust.

Now you might think there's a chance you can fail, but any result on said advanced move turns them to dust, even a miss. The only way something bad can happen is if you specifically choose for something bad to happen (two options are benefits, the third prevents a situation from happening which might not even be possible), or maybe if you roll a miss (the GM can at least try to figure out something bad), but that's only after your target is literally dusted.

And that's just if you want to kill something. Using just the background and starting moves, it's possible to easily escape nearly any calamity you could imagine, or achieve nearly any goal you want with no risk: you just spend the currency (which you then immediately regain), and keep doing it until the danger has passed or you've escaped from it.

Something else I noticed was that, in addition to numerous fictional contradictions, you can also, again based on a single background choice, move anywhere you want before anyone can react, constantly notice things to your advantage, and always defy danger using your best stat (whether or not it makes any fucking sense at all).

(Another criticism was that said class, as well as related ones feel like they were all made purely for money. Given the overall poor quality and experiences "interacting" with said creator, this is a sentiment I agree with.)

The other class has a starting move that lets you, among other things, transform other creatures or put them to sleep at the start of the game. You have to roll, but the miss just makes you choose something from a list, and the person knows that you did something (which will probably not matter once they're a harmless animal or asleep).

Run into a dragon? Use the move and turn them into a fish, or put it to sleep and stab it in the head. If it wakes up, just use the move again. The only restriction is that you have to spend a sort of currency, and you regain said currency whenever you're exposed to something, or do something you're not supposed to.

Just pick something commonplace (like, I dunno, iron, which is pretty mythologically appropriate for said class), and just have a character expose it to you whenever you need the currency. Alternatively, you can also tell a lie or break a simple oath (neither of which carries any inherent penalties or consequences).

After several years of designing Dungeon World content, especially classes, I’m only kind of surprised by this sort of thing, as something that I've heard before is that the game just "doesn't care" about balance, or that balance isn't as important as it is in other games (like, say, Dungeons & Dragons).

I disagree. To be clear, when I say balance I'm not just talking numbers and niche protection. Both are related and important (and easy to get right with minimal if any playtesting), but a third facet to consider is, for lack of a better term, "fictional" or “narrative” balance.

Think moves like the bard's Unforgettable Face, which lets you decide if you've met someone before and take +1 against them, or the thief's Wealth and Taste, which lets you flash around something and choose who wants it (and will do anything to get it). These moves bug me, but at least they're tamer than the shit mentioned above.

I don’t think moves need to be perfectly balanced against each other. I don’t even think they can, as not all games are the same, some players are more creative than others, and some GMs are more relaxed in their interpretations/rulings. But, there’s a pretty big gap between having to actually roll to try track and creatures, and being able to construct entire houses, instantly, with no roll, at 1st-fucking-level.

Of course I have no idea if this sort of thing is being done intentionally or accidentally, though I suspect in many cases it's the latter: I could definitely see some creators trying to get their classes to better stand out by giving them moves that grant lots of narrative control, "cool powers", and/or just let them do certain things with little to no cost or even risk.

When You Want To Do Better...
When Melissa and I design a class or moves, we don't adhere to tradition (like how all clerics have Turn Undead), or start with a catchphrase first and shoehorn the move into it later (the immolator's Sick Burn, and another class's Rags to Riches). We also don't create moves that are so easily abusable, especially without any kind of strategy or drawbacks, or impose fictional absolutes that might defy reason.

We start with the fiction/lore/narrative/whatever you want to call it, designing the move so that it does whatever it needs to do. Then we look at other classes to best ensure that the move works/makes sense, but that all the moves taken as a whole doesn't overshadow another class in the process, or let players do utterly insane things, like flee from virtually anything or instantly kill people no matter what they roll (if they even have to roll).

If it does, we tweak it until we find a middle ground in the "fiction" and function.

For example, during our research phase for The Oni we found that they can turn invisible, though we were never sure what their limits were, if any: could they just turn invisible and rip people apart? Maybe, and I'm sure there are would-be designers out there that wouldn't hesitate to permit that, but frankly without some limitation or drawback that's just too damned good.

A wizard can cast invisibility at 1st-level, but it ends as soon as you attack, and the wizard can't cast any other spells while it's in effect. That set a good benchmark, and while we tinkered around with a roll-and-hold move (roll+CHA to gain 1-3 hold that you spend to do other things), in the end we went with this:

When you turn invisible to the naked eye, roll+CHA. ✴On a 7+, you can walk about without revealing your presence, and take -1 ongoing until you end the effect. ✴On a 7-9, choose 1.
  • You are only invisible when you are not moving.
  • You are spotted before you turn invisible, or something else betrays your presence.
  • You take -1 ongoing to use mienai until you make camp.

If you attack someone, the effect immediately ends. Note that you can still be heard and smelled, and anything you touch or pick up does not become invisible.

You can only turn yourself invisible, you can't move very quickly, you're -1 ongoing to everything while you're invisible, and when you get a 7-9 there are additional problems that can crop up.

So, in a party with both an oni and a wizard, the wizard's invisibility spell can still have a use: you can drop it on someone else, they can move quickly about, and they can do everything normally. If you get a 7-9, you can opt to just lose the spell for the day.

A second example was waaay back when Melissa was writing The Pirate. One of the moves for one of the two included compendium classes allowed you to make a roll, and depending on the result could cause people to flee or surrender to you.

During feedback, a player stated that they didn't like it, because as written you could scare off or force anyone to surrender to you with one roll, whether a rank-and-file guard, a renown champion, a devoted priest, or even a dragon. We fixed it by having it cause one of several things to occur, but the GM got to choose what and who it applied to.

In this way the move was still useful, but the chances of something hilariously absurd, like a dragon surrendering to you for no good reason other than a lucky roll, were minimized.

After only a couple hours of design and writing, The Swordmage is good to go. If you want a solid fighter/wizard hybrid with twenty-five advanced moves to choose from (in addition to some other extras), pick it up.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out!

Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance!

Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.


Recent Comments

Popular Post

Blog Archive

- Copyright © Points of Light -Metrominimalist- Powered by Blogger - Designed by Johanes Djogan -