Monday, February 15, 2021

Simplifying combat: damage for dummies

Remember how I was saying that combat is boring, and we should get rid of initiative? That was a pretty cool idea, right? You see, this obsession with making combat as simple as possible is not new for me, but it received new life when a role-playing friend of mine asked how I could make combat as simple as possible without losing too much.

What could be simpler than a good smack to the mouth?

Of course, your definition of "too much" is as subjective as mine. But this friend shares certain sensibilities, or at least he understands mine. Since we're both software engineers, we're quick to see the advantage of making any calculation as simple as possible. Indeed, all good programmers are a certain kind of lazy.

(Humorous irony: The person who wrote the article I linked to above just so happens to play Pathfinder. Not exactly a paragon of simplicity in mechanics, is it?)

There's something about Pathfinder art that I find exhausting

Anyway, I'm getting off-topic. My apologies. Let's get back on track. Today's goal is to get rid of hit points and rolling for damage. Can we combine hitting and damaging into one simple roll? Well, yes, but that's been done before. We're also going to pare damage tracking down to the bone.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Another kind of magic

I've already mentioned that I think too much about different ways of doing fantasy magic, so it should be no surprise that I'm at it again. Why do I enjoy doing this? Well, the idea of magic is so malleable, and ultimately, it's a literary concept, since it doesn't apply to anything real.  I'd argue that, by definition, magic is unreal.

Thus, the act of defining "magic" and even daring to tie it down with game mechanics is both seductive and frustrating. Seductive, because that which is innately mysterious is bound to attract curiosity, but frustrating because understanding is ultimately elusive.

Anyway, today's take on magic is to replace all those spells and magic items in traditional RPG fantasy with two tools: potions and scrolls.

That's the stuff

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Simplifying Combat: dropping the initiative roll

Hey, isn't combat boring?

Wait, what? You thought combat was what role-playing was all about? No, I believe you're thinking about war-gaming. Role-playing is a distinct type of gaming, arguably not-a-game — among it's many odd features, two that stick out for me are the fact that (1) the rules are almost secondary, and (2) "winning," per se, isn't terribly important or even necessarily possible.

In that context, how are we expected to revel in combat? Some people enjoy very detailed simulationist mechanics, and in those games, players are likely thinking deeply about minimaxing their characters, comboing their abilities and optimizing their team synergy. That's fine and good, but I'd say even if you were ostensibly role-playing when you started doing that, you've temporarily segued into wargaming. Just not my style, I'm afraid.

Preach on, brother

What don't I like about role-playing combat? Well, first of all, it's slow. When a minute ago you might have been narrating over days at a time, in combat, you often find yourself spending an hour of realtime in correspondence with thirty-seconds of gametime. That ruins the pacing of an otherwise breezy session.

Second, it feels like a different kind of activity. This is a product of the wargaming aspect, and the way that combat slows things down. When a character wants to pick a lock, you talk it out, state a difficulty, roll and move on. Not so with combat. Instead, everyone is acting in a highly regimented order, and the conversational flow of the action is lost.

Personally, I'd love to get rid of the combat round, and replace it with something more free-flowing. For all the criticisms lobbed their way, this is something the World games (Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, etc.) accomplish quite nicely. The game conversation flows in exactly the same way, with players taking turns, round robin, to say what they are doing, and the GM responding in turn.

I'm not quite ready to go that far, however. But I do think we can do away with initiative.

Encounter ranges in old D&D

Before I go any further, I want to mention something about the title of this article. My term "old D&D" is an attempt at a coinage — basically, everything from so-called 0e through 2e, and any retroclones derived therefrom. If there's already a term for this (OSR seems a bit more expansive), then please let me know.

Anyway, the subject of this article is something I call encounter ranges. This is basically a replacement for the mechanics of surprise. The end result is fairly similar, but it broadens and sharpens our concept, all at the same time.


Saturday, January 2, 2021

A concept of magic

I'm always tinkering with rules and underlying concepts for "magic." Anyone who spends (too) much time working on these kinds of things starts to ask fundamental questions about imaginary concepts, which is obviously a strange undertaking. And this leads us to the perennial question of fantasy literature and gaming: what is magic?

I'm not going to try to answer that here, for a couple reasons. First, it's a subtle and complex concept, and I don't know if I want to go into that much detail in this place and time. But more importantly, it's a very wanky thing to do. So we'll save it for another time.

Instead, I'm going to talk about some ideas I had for a magic system. This was initially conceived for a Delta Green-like modern horror-fantasy campaign, but I think it can be easily adapted to an old-school swords-and-sorcery setting just as well. All we'd need to do is change a little of the window dressing.

I like my magic like I like my coffeeblack

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

House rules for Warlock!

In my review of Warlock!, I mentioned that I was running a group of players through my conversion of Deep Carbon Observatory. Now I love the Warlock! system, but if you don't see the gaps in the rules while reading them, then you'll find out when you run it.

The great Mustafa Bekir is coming for you...

Rules for poison? Falling? Combat movement? Nope, none of that. So then you know there aren't any mechanics for sneak attacks! I anticipated some of these things ahead of time, and others came up during play. Along the way, I even decided to make a major revision to the magic system.

What better place to share all that than here?

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Review! Wolves of God

I really don't understand why I don't see more people talking about Wolves of God. First of all, it's a Sine Nomine joint, and Kevin Crawford's OSR sandbox systems are universally beloved. Second, it's great!

Look out, it's wol--actually, it's just Gary and Paul

So I'm going to do the world and Mr. Crawford a great service, and bestow upon all of you my review of Wolves of God. Here it comes...