Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Whole New World

Picture this: You're a teenager who has been voraciously devouring D&D 3.5 books. You've recently found out about the OGL. You decide to yourself "I'll write something and sell it!" Then you realize that writing RPG stuff takes a lot of work (especially in D&D 3.5).

The person described above was me about 10 years ago. And now I'm feeling kinda nostalgic for those days when I didn't realize how crappy 3rd edition and my early homebrew attempts were. So I'm going to grab all that horrible stuff, polish it, combine it with some more recent ideas into a new setting, and post it as recurring feature on this blog. So let's dive right in.

The world in question is formally known as "Taurion Effel", Elvish for the "True World". Ancient Elven scholars of the Fourth Age so named the world in contrast to "Kadarion Effel", the "False World", which is commonly known as the Dreamworld. Over time, the name has changed drastically. At the current time, commonly designate the Fifth Age, the most common form of the name survives as Tarfel. Other variants include Tarfil, Taronel, Tarfland, and Tarfiland.

The historians and chroniclers generally recognize that there are four or five vast stretches of time commonly referred to as Ages that are differentiated by environmental characteristics and by which race(s) seemed to be most influential. The commonly recognized Ages are:
  • The First Age, or The Age of The Seafolk: Back when Tarfel was almost entirely covered by water, numerous aquatic races forged mighty empires. These races are referred to as the Seafolk. Although such a term is the same as modern parlance for Merfolk and even Sahuagin, the ancient Seafolk were more alien and farther removed from their descendants. As the waters retreated and icecaps formed, these empires crumbled. 
  •  The Second Age, or The Age of The Insectoids: As trees spread to the newly-dried land, the air of Tarfel become much richer (in oxygen). Insects and arthropods grew and some among them grew sapient. The greatest of these Insectoid races were the ant-like Formi, the spider-like Aran, and the beetle-like Otubak. Warring between these three and others destroyed much of the tree-choked land. The air became poorer and these races began to literally shrink or die outright.
  •  The Third Age, or The Age of The Serpents: A slight warming of Tarfel enabled the reptilian races that were formerly enslaved by the Insectoids to expand into new territories. The most illustrious of these are the Serpentine, who still persist in a greatly weakened state and work tirelessly toward the extinction of Elvenknind. A minor ice age doomed the vast realms of the reptilian races. Now only pitiful remnants clinging to ancient history remain.
  •  The Fourth Age, or The Age of Elves: This age was marked by the rule of the Elves. They discovered new magical secrets and devised several ingenious technologies, particularly in the field of astronomy. The Elven empires crumbled after the Great Schism, the Sin of King Tabel, and numerous civil wars. The Elves still remain a strong presence in the modern world.
  • The Fifth Age, or The Age of Men: Humans, the bastard race born of the union between Dwarves and Elves, has spread and conquered all over Tarfel. Unlike their predecessors they are far more fractious and disorganized. Some (Human) scholars fear that these division may be their downfall.  
  •  The Sixth Age: The Sixth Age is currently mere conjecture. Several kingdoms look upon the notion that Humans will be replaced as an offense against religion, culture, and the crown. Nevertheless, in hidden cabals and cozy studies, those with knowledge of the past puzzle over the portents of the times. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Back 2 Skool

My college semester starts in two days. This will make my updates less frequent. I've still got plenty of stuff to write about though.

See you soon, you crazy diamonds :3c

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tome of Terrors and Treasures Review Part 1: Races

I recently got C.R. Brandon's Tome of Terrors and Treasures, a supplement for Heroes & Other Worlds. Having lightly read through the first half (or 70-80% to be accurate) of the book, it's time for a small(?) review. As the title says, for right now I'm only covering the playable races section of the book. The other Terrors and Treasures will be covered in future posts. Sorry ~('-'~)

An illustration of a Kobold captured by my crappy cell camera

The bulk of the PC races are organized in two sections, Humans and Demi-humans and Humanoids. You may note that this is older D&D terminology. There are three hiccups though. First, not all of the creatures in the Humanoids section can be played. Second, there are other playable races such as Satyrs, Centaurs, and Gargoyles that appear in other sections. Third, there is no index of playable races (although I did make an index on the HOW forums). This isn't a huge problem but if you don't know where everything is it can be a hassle.

I was actually surprised by how many OGL monster races appear in the book but aren't playable and that some "iconic" OGL races are omitted. There are no rules for playing Merfolk, Locathah, or Tritons, which understandable since they can't walk but feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity. Sahuagin aren't playable either, and Malenti aren't even in the book. The Planetouched (Aasimar and Tieflings) are completely absent, although they've always held an unstable position in OGL's pantheon of options. On the plus side, ToTaT doesn't have seven flavors of Elf.

The format for each race's statistics is now in an OGL-style format as opposed to the Minimum Scores chart in the HOW core rulebook. The stats are converted from the OGL/D&D 3.5 but Brandon takes some liberties with the stats, such as Duergar who have lost their Enlarge Person ability. Each set of stats ends with a Favored Class line which is never explained in the rules and always seems to be Adventurer. Given the large differences in the Experience systems between D&D 3.5 and HOW I don't have a clue what Brandon was trying to do there.

For most of the monster races, the trade-off for increased power is the loss of the EN. The problem is that it seems applied to ALL monster races, even weak ones. I'm going to quote some rules text. 

- +2 DX, no EN, no other modifiers
- AR-1 (DR 1/- in OGL terms)
-Low light vision
Compare that to this:
- +4 ST, -2 DX and IQ, no EN
- Darkvision out to 90 feet
- AR-2
- 3 natural weapons that each deal 1d3 damage
- Stench, a passive offensive ability that can debuff any and all non-Trogs with 30 ft./6 spaces
Now compare those two to this:
Hill Dwarf
- +2 bonus to notice unusual stone featues
- +4 bonus to resist tripping and knockdown
- +2 bonus to resist poison
- +2 bonus to resist spells
- +1 bonus to attack/cast spells against goblinoids
- +4 bonus to dodge Giants
- +2 bonus to appraise tests on metal/stone
- +2 bonus to crafting tests (metal/stone)

While the Trog edges the Dwarf in terms of combat, the Dwarf is a much all-rounder and utility character. Meanwhile, the Tengu has nothing to offer besides the novelty of playing as a bird-person. Fortunately, Tengu and Dwarves (and maybe Halflings) are all outliers and the relative power level for all races is pretty balanced across the board.

In closing, ToTaT delivers well on the playable races front, offering some neat new ones and some OGL-derived alternatives for the core HOW races. GMs hoping for Undead and Aquatic races unfortunately won't find them here (although conversion should be easyish). The main flaws are that some races are kinda lost in other sections that can be overlooked and that a handful of races (Dwarves, Tengu, Halflings) might be either underpowered or overpowered. If your burning desire is for more playable races or iconic races based on the OGL for Heroes & Other Worlds then I highly recommend Tome of Terrors and Treasures to you.

Coming soon-ish: Part 2 (Monsters) and Part 3 (Magic Items/Treasure) of this review.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Developing an RPG 2: Da Roolz

In a previous post, I detailed the fluff for a new RPG I've been fiddling with. It's nowhere near playable but I might as well jot down my ramblings, eh?

First, thanks mainly to buying some GURPS books, I've become fond of hex maps so the rules are written with hexes in mind. From the outset I wanted to keep the types of dice used fairly simple so the only types used are D6s and D10s, with D6s as the most frequently used.

Now we get to attributes. I could summarize but instead I'll post one of the few semi-complete sections of my RPG:

To create your very own Giant you first have to determine your Giant's Primary Attributes. There are three attributes:
*Strength (Str): Represents your Giant's physical power.
*Dexterity (Dex): Represents your Giant's agility and reflexes.
*Constitution (Con): Represents your Giant's endurance and immune system.
Each of these Attributes start at 1. You have a pool of 12 points that you can spend to increase your Giant's attributes on a 1-to-1 basis (i.e. increasing your Giant's Str to 5 cost 4 points).

Once you've got the Primary Attributes squared away, you can determine your Giant's Secondary Attributes:
*Health Points (HP): Represents your Giant's health and physical wholeness. To determine your Giant's HP, add 10 to your Giant's Con. This is your Maximum HP. Your Giant dies if his HP goes to 0.
*Speed (Spd): Represents your Giant's movement speed. To determine your Giant's Spd add 4 to your Giant's Dexterity; this is the number of spaces on a hex map she may move per round.
*Defense (Def): Represents your Giant's skill at avoiding hits. To determine your Giant's Def start with 5 and add your Giant's Dex and any Defense Modifiers from Armor. That is the number that an opponent's attack roll must equal or exceed in order to hit your Giant.
You'll note that there are no mental stats. This is a conscious choice, an experiment in the matter of player knowledge vs character knowledge. In Wrath of the Giants! such a separation doesn't exist which may wind being a problem.

But enough about that, time for fighting!
Melee Combat

To make a Melee attack against an opponent, the target must be in either a hex adjacent to the Giant or in the Giant's own hex. At the GM's discretion, some weapons, especially improvised ones, might have a farther reach. The Attacker rolls 3D6 and compares the result to the Target's Defense.
So attack and defense are basically D&D 3.5's attack and AC with 3D6 instead of 1D20 (thanks again, GURPS!) As an embarrassing aside, this wasn't the original design I had in mind. See, I had a great idea about the combat system and I forgot to write it down. Such is the life of an amateur RPG designer ._.

Improvisation in Battle

Sometimes a Giant my drop a weapon or send it flying away. While using your fists is a noble tradition in Giant pugilism, most prefer a good, strong weapon instead!
The image of a Giant grabbing a horse, tree, trebuchet, or small building and using it to kick some tinyfolk ass is really great. But if improvised weapons are strictly worse than manufactured weapons, why wouldn't a Giant just buy a bunch of high-quality weapons instead of relying on scavenging?
So I inserted a(n as-yet unwritten) fumble rule just to make a crappy alternative viable. Although I didn't intend as a bad example of contrived rules, looking at I it now this was a terrible idea. Fumbles will be turned into something optional in future drafts.

That's all for now!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Big Trouble in Little China: Niche protection and intraparty balance

Big Trouble in Little China is a neat little urban fantasy/martial arts movie that reads like a dungeon delve in movie form. In fact, the whole set-up is very easily adaptable to your dungeon exploration game of choice (like AD&D in modern times). The other big thing that clicked when I was watching the move besides "this is a great dungeon, I should swipe it" was that the two protagonists, Wang Chi and Jack Burton, demonstrate a good example of balancing party dynamics and giving each character a chance to shine.

The two protagonists of Big Trouble in Little China are Wang Chi and Jack Burton. Wang is a fairly straightforward martial artist. Jack is what most roleplayers would call a rogue-type build that focus on non-combat skills.

Every time Jack and Wang get into a combat situation Jack turns into a bumbling oaf while kicks ass. By the same token, when non-combat challenges such as scaling a scaffold, getting out of tied ropes, or catching a knife, Jack is the star of the show while Wang is out of his element.

What makes it work is that Jack and Wang can't succeed without each other. Without Wang, Jack gets punched or shot to death by a random mook. Without Jack, Wang gets thrown into a torture chamber and killed.

It's a nice outside look at how a roleplaying game dynamic should work.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

GURPS to Heroes & Other Worlds: Fantasy Folk conversion test

Inspired by the Retro-clone to HOW conversion guide found in Cauldron #0 (available for free at Brandon's site!), I decided to take a look at a GURPS 3E splat I had lying around. Thanks to the fact that HOW and GURPS share a common ancestor (The Fantasy Trip), it seems that GURPS is one of the easiest systems to convert. Before I start really working on in-depth GURPS-HOW conversions I wanted to do some quick and relatively easy experiments first by converting a races from Fantasy Folk to HOW rules.
Sadly, these chill-looking insect bros don't appear in the book.

Attributes are the easiest place to start. GURPS and HOW are both systems with four attributes and three share the same names and abbreviations (ST, DX, IQ). This leaves GURPS' HT as the equivalent to HOW's EN. In theory, this should be a good correspondence but I think that in practice the HT/EN equivalence might not work so well. We'll see!
Let's start with Fauns (Fantasy Folk 66). Fauns have ST -2, DX +3, and HT +1. Their Advantages and Disadvantages are Alertness (i.e. heighten senses), Animal Empathy, Musical Ability, Lecherousness, and bad Reputations. Their racial skills are Carousing (partying) and Scrounging.

The attributes are the easiest part to convert: ST -2, DX +3, and EN +1. HOW describes racial attribute adjustments as minimums so Fauns have minimums of ST 6, DX 11, IQ 8, and EN 9 (HOW uses 8 as the average attribute score). These are the same attribute minimums as a Halfling, so this step seems to have worked out. Yay!

Advantages/Disadvantages, and Skills to a lesser extent, are a stickier matter. Lecherousness and their bad Reputation are just roleplaying in HOW so there's no need for mechanics there. The sticky bit is deciding which aspect of the GURPS write-up is most important. Are Fauns woodland beings (as shown by Alertness, Animal Empathy, and Scrounging) or party animals (as shown by Musical Ability and Carousing)?

Either aspect is viable but since Fauns already have a Halfling's stats I'd rather go the party animal route instead of stealing the Elves' gimmicks. So let's say that Fauns get +1 to Bard and Charm tests. That's better than a Halfling's perks but not quite as good as an Elf's perks.

So far so good, eh? Next time I'll try my hand at Fantasy Folk's Dwarves, Elves, Giants, Insect Men, and Kobolds. I doubt it will go as smoothly as this conversion!