Tag Archives: RPG

Multi-speed leveling – Example

What would different XP tracks look like in practice?

My last blog post looked at the idea of having characters level at different rates. I called this asymmetric at the time, but I’m not sure that’s quite right. I mean, they’re all getting XP for the same things, so it’s not truly asymmetry – it’s just they advance at different speeds.

I thought I’d throw out a worked example, to show what it might look like.

Take the D&D5 campaign, Curse of Strahd. The rear blurb announces this is for character levels 1-10. I immediately decide this means, by the end of the adventure:

  • Adventurers will be around level 10
  • Farmboys will reach level 12
  • Veterans will reach level 9
  • All characters will be equal level around level 7

So I create an XP table with the following key points in place

Adventurer Farmboy Veteran
1 0
2 300
3 900
4 2,700
5 6,500
6 14,000
7 23,000 23,000 23,000
8 34,000
9 48,000 64,000
10 64,000
11
12 64,000

Then, it’s a relatively simple job of filling in the blanks. First I make a couple of general assumptions:

  • I want Veterans to start at level 3, and to be ahead of the Adventurers at every level up til they hit 7 together.
  • I want Farmboys to be around 1.5 levels behind Adventurers until 4th level, and to have a fairly even progression throughout
  • I can broadly split the difference for Veteran level 8
  • I want to share as few leveling milestones as possible, to increase the chance of characters leveling at different times (and sharing the joy this brings!)

Using those two assumptions, my modified table now looks like this:

Adventurer Farmboy Veteran
1 0
2 300 1,000
3 900 3,000 0
4 2,700 6,000 600
5 6,500 10,000 2,000
6 14,000 15,000 8,000
7 23,000 23,000 23,000
8 34,000 29,000 42,000
9 48,000 36,000 64,000
10 64,000 44,000
11 53,000
12 64,000

Basically, the farmboy has progression increase by just 1k per level, with 2,000XP from 2nd to 3rd, 3,000 from 3rd to 4th. It takes a slight jump in the middle, to align with my desired parity level at 7th, but then resumes at 6,000 for 8th, 7,000 for 9th and jumps slightly at the end with 11,000XP for 11th to 12.

Other Considerations: Hit Points and Death Saves

As I said before, probably the main difference between levels if you’re not a spell-caster is just the number of hit points you have.  I suggested you might tweak Death saves to even this out, but I think you can do a bit more than that just to even things out.

  • Farmboy: you have to fail on 4 Death Saves to be killed. However, after the parity point, you get -2 HP per level
  • Veteran: you have to fail on 2 Death saves to be killed. However, after the parity point, you get +3 HP per level.

I’m sure you could do a lot more to tweak this further, including reducing the number of skills Farmboys start with and even tinkering with Hit Dice. But for me, this does enough to make things interesting without introducing too many new rules (and possible imbalances!)

Asymmetrical D&D Parties

I knocked this up quickly this morning on Twitter, and decided I felt so strongly about it, I’d drop it into a quick blog post as well.

The party is the core of most Fantasy RPGs. While I understand there are some people who hate the idea that someone in the party is more “powerful” than them, modern RPG thought tends to lean more on ensuring everyone can contribute *something*, everyone has a clear niche and that one player or character isn’t completely over-shadowing the rest. As long as you do this, mixed power levels work fine (just look at the Avengers).

For me, AD&D’s asymmetrical party was a feature, not a flaw, and allowed different PCs to shine at different times. How could you introduce that into the likes of D&D5e without completely messing it all up? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Make sure the combined party level averages out to suit the adventure. A group of adventurers of L3, L4, L5, L6, L6 should be fine for an adventure targeted at 5th level PCs
  2. Probably don’t vary by more than a couple of levels. While asymmetry is cool, you don’t want the lower level PC to be totally ineffective and/or vulnerable to insta-kills. Having said, playing a single session as a Level 1 character hiding at the back could be a fun roleplaying opportunity!
  3. I’d build asymmetry into the structure of the game, so everyone knows what they’re getting into. Think about the planned leveling arc of your campaign. Note the maximum level you expect characters to reach. Create 3 XP/milestone tracks:
    1. Farmboy goes slower at first, but accelerates, reaching Max+2 by end of campaign
    2. Veteran goes faster (maybe starts a level or two higher) but gains much slower, ending at Max -2 by end of campaign
    3. Adventurer progresses normally.
  4. Ask players which XP track they want to use for their character. You may need to negotiate a bit to get the right mix OR…
  5. Apply the XP tracks to specific classes, not PCs. Maybe every Wizard is on the Farmboy track. Maybe every Paladin is a Veteran. That can really add some campaign world flavour, reinforcing the fact that, e.g., the most powerful individuals in Tolkienripoffia are all Rangers

This model ought to work really well in D&D 5e, because of how the mathematics of the game have been structured. While HP and special abilities do advance quickly, basic competence and Armor Class are fairly static. So a lower level character will have reduced damage output, but their chance to hit and skills will rarely be more than a point or two different to their higher level colleagues. (indeed, one might argue this is the greatest flaw in my proposal – in 5e, for non-spellcasting classes, the only real difference is just the PC dying quicker)

And while this is ideally geared towards a full campaign, there’s no reason the approach can’t be taken in shorter adventures. E.g. in a 3-4 session one-shot, the Farmboy levels up every session, the Adventurer levels in session 3, Veteran never does.

Addendum: Death Saves

Quick extra thought. The XP track could also influence the Death Saves. The Farmboy needs 4 unsuccessful death saves to die; the Veteran only 2.Provides a bit of balance to the disparity in HP, and highlights that the Farmboy is destined for greater things, whereas the Veteran, who has been there and done it, feels the inevitable fate drawing ever closer…

D&D Basic Rules Re-write

Back in December 2018, I made the bold assertion that I could edit a chapter from a popular RPG down to 50% of its word count. Why would I make such a foolish assertion?

My own writing can be incredibly verbose. My university dissertation came in at three-times the targeted 10,000 words, and is so tedious I’ve barely been able to read it in the 25 years since. My increasingly rare blog posts are frequently gushing lakes of word soup. If words are my stock in trade, I’ve always favoured quantity over quality.

And yet, ironically, my day job is writing. But my business writing is always accompanied by strict space restrictions. Over the years, I’ve adapted my writing style to communicate often complex business concepts in highly prescriptive word limits. Believe it or not, I’ve become pretty good at it, despite what the indulgent word splurges of this website might suggest.

 

Why? And how?!

In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear to me that the average big-release RPG is seriously over-written. I first noticed it in Fantasy Age, a delightful and relatively simple RPG by Green Ronin. That’s a book that clocks in at just 144 pages, and yet never states any rule once when three times is better.

Conan Swimming

I saw it in Modiphius’ excellent Conan RPG, with its detailed and entirely unnecessary explanation of what the Swimming skill does. And it’s all over Pathfinder 2, with masses of repetition that suggests either each character class is designed to be printed and handed out to players separately, or the writer negotiated a strict, no-cap by-the-word contract.

So this is the context to my claim. And, after nearly 12 months of prevarication, I got down to it. The twitter poll decided the text I would tackle: the D&D Basic Rules, the free PDF of the fifth edition rules published by Wizards of the Coast.

Twitterpoll

My basic rule was, as much as possible, to keep the structure, headings and format. This wasn’t a rewrite, it was purely editing what was there. It should also read as prose, not purely a list of instructions. It took a little over 2 hours to reduce the word count by 45% in a first sweep. A quick review of which sections had been reduced the least, and I mopped up the remaining 5%. Last night, I took out another 0.5% just to be tidy. So there, less than half a day’s work. Done.

 

The results

So, without further ado, here it is, arranged in two columns: the original text on the left, and my edit on the right.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/puqxipk6nli1neb/Dicemechanic%20D%26D%20Basic%20Rewrite%20Project.docx?dl=0

I hope you’ll agree this works fine. You may prefer the original, but I’d argue that the rules are equally clear without the additional explanations the base text provides. And while flavour text may make the original easier to read, I think the fact it’s half the length more than makes up for this.

 

A conclusion. Of sorts.

The RPG designer, Dennis Detwiller, of Delta Green fame, has noted that as much as some people complain about big expensive glossy books, publishers use this format because the market clearly favours it: big glossy sells. I think this is probably true. The price of printing a few more pages may be more than balanced by the increased shelf real estate in your Friendly Local Gaming Store (especially where books are competing on the basis of spine not cover art).

It’s just a shame that the price of this format is generally more quantity, rather than quality. Tight writing isn’t dead. Indie games excel in delivering punch in the shortest page count possible. Black Hack and Cthulhu Hack are works of genius. King of Dungeons, by the Smart Party podcast’s Baz Stevens, compresses the essence of Pelgrane Press’ 13th Age into a pocket digest whilst adding huge amounts of colour and flavour. But where an ever-growing catalogue of RPGs are competing for shelf-space, perhaps having more pages is a necessary evil to get your book into gamers’ hands?

 

Copyright

The D&D Basic Rules are nothing to do with me. They’re owned by Wizards of the Coast and I have not been given permission to replicate them. I don’t claim to own them, and you can get the originals directly from the WotC website (just enter D&D Basic Rules into your internet search engine of choice).

I’m hoping what I’ve done constitutes fair use, and that WotC don’t send me a cease and desist for repeating copyright material. But if they do, I’ll be taking this down immediately, because this was nothing more than a proof of concept.

Runequest in Glorantha: Home-brewed

With the launch just this week of RCQ – Runequest Glorantha – the “true” successor to the much loved Runequest 2, many of my geeky chums are once more venturing to Genertela to explore the deep mysteries of the cults, runes and deadly combat from back on the day.

So what better time for my dear friend Stephen (@smginnessuk) , GM of our Runequest 2 campaign, to share his house-rules for elevating an aged system for a more enlightened gaming age…

Introduction

I played my first game of Runequest in 1978.  I played it almost exclusively until it made it to third edition.  My lack of enthusiasm for the new edition, the stuttering publication of that edition along with a distancing of the game from Glorantha, and several life events meant that I rarely played the game between 1987 and just a few years ago.  That did not mean I stopped reading stuff or buying almost everything Glorantha that I could put my hands on.

I did play a lot of other games, including a variety of other Gloranthan related systems: Mongoose Runequest, Design Mechanism Runequest, Hero Wars, HeroQuest.  When I came back to RQII I fell in love with its simplicity all over again but there were things that rankled me, especially when I no longer had the copious amounts of free time to play, or to manage the detail of the second edition. Not to mention having been spoiled by modern systems that accommodate narrative gameplay and give agency to the players.

Now Chaosium just releasing a successor to RQII, I thought before I read the shiny new PDF that this would be a good time to show others how I adapted RQII and imported things from other iterations of Glorantha to allow me to play Runequest now.  This is my first real attempt to do this and it will change and adapt to my players responses, its inability to cope with at the table situations and new cool ideas that I come across.

The main changes I’ve made fall into three categories:

  • Character design
  • Running the game
  • Heroquesting

The latter two will follow in a day or two. But, to kick things off…

Character Design

Characters are rolled and written up using pure RQII, just like I did it in 1978. Statistics, modifiers, spells and skills. I add the the previous experience rules to get more experienced starting characters, but that is as far things go there.

I do not use the old character sheet, but have designed my own, one based on the Heroquest way of doing things and designed to put the key information front-and-centre in a way that really supports play at the table.

Gundrig-RQ1-page-001

Skill Groups

This is where things start to change a little. Skills are organised into three key skill groups.  This is often narrative background things like “Pavis born and bred”, “Initiate of Orlanth” or “Experienced scout” with all of a character’s skills organised underneath those.  Each group is then assigned a skill level based on the best five skills in the group.  The skill groups have threshold numbers: 15%, 30%, 50%, 70%, 90% and 120% which I assign the titles used in the Robin D. Law’s King of Dragon Pass game: Fair, Good, Very good, Excellent, Reknowned and Heroic.

All skills that fall into the group are then treated as operating at at least the threshold skill level.

The upshot is that a character with Good “Pavis born and bred” can tell the GM at any time that someone born and bred in Pavis’ dusty streets should be able to find a decent short cut to Gimpy’s and use 30% as a chance for that.  The player might then list “Pavis backstreets” at 30% on the sheet and, if successful, give it a tick for later experience checks.  It is a way of providing a broad base to skills and allowing players to more effectively play the character they envisaged without having to think of every little skill they might need.

Gundrig-RQ2-page-001

The other aspect of skill groups is that once five skills within the group have advanced beyond the next threshold, the threshold goes up and so every skill goes up to the threshold.  E.g. a Good “Initiate of Orlanth” has just raised his broadsword attack to 70%.  Within this skill group, he already has Spot Hidden at 85%, Riding at 80%, Evaluate Treasure at 70% and Camouflage at 75% (all skills the player and GM agreed fitted within this skill group).  As broadsword attack was the fifth skill in this group to get to 70%, the skill group is now Very Good and all skills within it – including any new skills the player comes up with in play that fit within this this group – will be at 70%.

This reflects the idea that during down time, when they are living their lives rather than adventuring, characters maintain and update the skills associated with that life.  Initiates of Orlanth will find themselves using skills that such initiates use on a regular basis.

Next-up: Running the Game (coming soon!)

Xeno-Hunters

I’ve always had a soft spot for D&D 4th edition. Sure, it never felt like D&D for me, but the core engine was just so unlike anything we’d seen before in table-top RPGs.

My previous efforts to convert D&D4e into a fast-paced dungeon-crawl boardgame were documented on here some time ago, an experimental project which showed some promise but perhaps not quite enough to keep me interested.

However, a tweet from Dungeon World co-author, Adam Koebel (@skinnyghost), got me all a tingly again. Another bit of Dice Mechanic tweakery was on the cards…

image002

Creating Xeno-Hunters

Aim: to create an X-Com or Aliens themed game, based on the D&D 4th edition rule-set.

Methodology: I wanted to prove Adam’s thesis to its fullest extent. I knew I could house-rule and tweak 4e to make a sci-fi game – however, if I was to do this, I wanted to make it as close to vanilla 4e as possible. Reskinned but not house-ruled.

Browsing the Player’s Handbook, it wasn’t too difficult to start to equate different character classes to equivalent sci-fi roles. In 4th edition, Fighters are very much the tanks and blockers of the game, taking the hits and holding up the enemy so their colleagues can deal the killing blows. To me, the immediate image that came to mind was a power-armoured Space Marine struggling to hold back a scuttling mass of insectoid aliens. Wizard’s area effect spells are just magical hand-bombs. Ranger sharp-shooters are clearly 4th edition’s Snipers. Easy.

I decided to make the characters at Sixth level: this gives them a few more powers and feats, a few magic items and allows me a wider range of opponents straight out of the Monster Manual to match them up against.

Results: I’ve created six characters, almost 100% 4th edition compliant, and absolutely sci-fi through and through. I used standard character generation rules, races, powers, feats and equipment. The four relatively minor changes were as follows:

  • Feats: I accidentally gave characters one Feat too many. I spotted this on the 4th character, but by then I was committed and couldn’t be bothered to go back 🙂
  • Weapons: I created a custom weapon for the Assault Trooper, as nothing quite fitted. But I still think it’s broadly balanced in the context of 4e weapons. Everything else is a standard 4e weapon (though there’s a Bastard Sword and a Superior Crossbow in there if you can spot them)
  • Magic Items: the game does have rules for giving magic items to characters created above 1st level. However, instead, I calculated how many items an equivalent party would have earned through play and then shared them out.
  • Sniping: the 4e Player’s Handbook clearly says that Crossbows can be used for Sneak Attacks, but looking online it seems that may have been errata’d to just “Hand Crossbows”. I figured spending a Feat to broaden to all Crossbows wasn’t unreasonable, based on the precedent of the Elf’s Treetop Sniper feat.

The only change I made from my original vision was that, on studying the abilities a bit closer, I decided to make the Close Assault Trooper the Ranger, and the Sniper is a Rogue. It was pretty interchangeable, both classes have great abilities to cover both of these roles.

The Salvageers

After all this, here are the six characters: Salvageers, private contractors making a living by clearing out alien bug infestations from abandoned space wrecks.

I’ve re-designed the character sheet to completely mask it’s origins. I decided if I was going to re-skin things, I was going to re-skin everything. I tried to give it a sci-fi feel and also bury the abilities granted by Race, Class and Magic Items into themed power-sets.

Cleric / Commander: Warlord might be the obvious example for the Leader of this gang of XenoHunters, but Warlords don’t have ranged powers and I wanted to change as little as possible. I think the Commander makes for an interesting and effective character – and probably the only character in the party that is absolutely essential to make the party work.

Fighter / Power Trooper: a Goliath with a good spread of defensive-focused magic items and here you have it, a walking juggernaut who is probably the sole melee combatant as often as not.

Ranger / Assault Trooper: makes the most of the Ranger’s Prime Shot ability and range of move-and-attack combinations to be the group’s scout. And yes, he’s a halfling, but don’t hold that against him.

Rogue / Sniper: with a number of stealthy assassin-type feats in one of the later 4e character books, I was able to create a very effective ranged character. Indeed, in comparison, I feel like the Assault Trooper is a little hard-done-by

Sniper

Wizard / Grenadier: the basic powers were easy enough, but I had to exercise some creativity with the utility abilities a wizard has. I think it works pretty well, a bit fragile but a fun character to play.

Warlock / Psychic: an absolute loony-tunes of a character, with a range of very deadly attacks and a don’t-give-a-damn attitude. I decided to make the psychic abilities Encounter and Daily powers only, as I didn’t feel a constant flurry of psychic blasts fitted the sci-fi psionic aesthetic.

Psychic

I’d love to hear your thoughts / comments, either on the feedback below or via Twitter.

Next up: XenoHunters: the scenario. You’ll be amazed how a simple name change and bit of colourful description can turn a D&D standard into a scuttling alien menace…

Simple D&D 4th edition character sheet

I’ve been thinking more and more about running with my slightly silly idea for a D&D4th edition card-based dungeon crawl game. It would certainly have some challenges – managing the number of Encounter powers, for example, and how to balance simplicity with the exception-based rules of Feats – but I’ve decided to go for it.

With this in mind, I’ve created a simple Excel version of a D&D4 character sheet. It is designed to show little-to-no workings, just highlighting the important numbers that inform game play.

You can find it here: <link to character sheet>

D&D5 – Mucking about with Proficiency

One of the simplifications that lies at the heart of D&D5 is the Proficiency mechanic: one central value, derived from Character Level, added to your die roll. Whether you’re hitting stuff with a pointy stick or trying to remember the name of that ancient carbunculous statue: roll 1d20 and add Proficiency.

So obviously, that’s RIPE for complication!

So here’s a few proposals on how you can muck about with Proficiency, adding complexity and individuality without breaking the game (too badly!)

 

Proficiency: the five core functions

To begin with, let’s split Proficiency into its main functions:

  • Skill rolls
  • Saving throws
  • Spell-casting rolls
  • Combat (and here I’d suggest further diversifying into Melee Combat and Ranged Combat)

Every character will now have five separate values to represent their relative skill in different areas. So, as a Barbarian you may favour Melee Combat, Saves and Skills; as a Wizard you’ll want to focus as much on Spell-casting; a Bard may go with a more even spread.

Now for deriving and increasing these values. Here’s a few ideas:

Method 1: Simple Level Proficiency

All values start at +2. You get +1 to one Proficiency value of your choice at Level 1 and every level thereafter. You can’t add more than Level / 3 to any one value (rounded up to 1 for L2, with an absolute maximum of +8).

This allows a generalist character to have +6 in all five areas by L20, or a specialist to have a spread of +8/+8/+8/+3/+3.

A simple progression and easy to manage, but leads to over-powered specialists.

Method 1A: Capped Maximum

All values start at +2. You get +1 to one Proficiency value of your choice at Level 1 and every level thereafter. The highest value must be within 2 points of the lowest value.

This reduces the ability of a Specialist to run ahead, with a maximum spread of +7/+7/+7/+5/+5 at L20.  However, it does allow someone to have +4 to one ability at 2nd level. Almost certainly not game breaking, but does stretch the underlying assumptions of the mechanics a little.

Method 2: Points-buy

Each level you get a number of Proficiency Points equal to the new Level (i.e. at 3rd level, you get 3 points). Increasing Proficiency values costs as follows:

Value +3 +4 +5 +6 +7 +8
Cost 2 8 15 25 50 100

You can only increase 1 value per level. This allows for the following progressions:

  • Generalist:  focusing equally on all Proficiency values, you get +1 to one Proficiency value every level (except 18th). At 10th level you have +4/+4/+4/+4/+3 and end up with +6/+6/+6/+5/+5 at 20th level.
  • Ultra-specialist: focus on a single Proficiency, you hit +6/+2/+2/+2/+2 at 10th level and +8/+2 etc. at 20th level. Good luck with those Saving Throws…
  • Dual specialist: 10th level is +5/+5/+2 and 20th level is +7/+7/+2.
  • Priority 3: +5/+4/+4/+3/+2 at 10th, +7/+6/+6/+4/+2 at 20th
  • Focus 4: +4/+4/+4/+4/+2 at 10th, +6/+6/+6/+6/+4 at 20th

More granular, more choice, but complex book-keeping. And in reality, would anyone not go for something akin to Priority 3 or Focus 4? Might be better just defining some possible progressions at Level 1 and having players pick them.

Method 3: Class-based Proficiency

If you’re going to define Proficiency up front, why not just set it by class a la D&D3.x?

Firstly, change the default assumption back to 4 Proficiency types, dropping the split between Melee and Ranged combat. Set four core progressions:

  • Strong: +3 at 4th level and further +1 every 4 levels, until +7 at 20th
  • Standard: as per usual
  • Moderate: +1 at 1st level, +2 at 2nd level and +1 every 4 levels until +6 at 17th
  • Weak: +0 at 1st level, +1 at 2nd level and +1 every 5 levels until +4 at 17th

Then allocate classes one of two possible arrays:

  • Specialist class: Strong, Standard, Moderate, Weak
  • Generalist class: Standard, Standard, Moderate, Moderate

E.g. A Fighter would be Strong Attack, Standard Save, Moderate Skill, Weak Magic. A Bard could be Standard Magic, Standard Skill, Moderate Attack, Moderate Save.

Method 4: Simple Proficiency, revisited

Start with spread of +2/+2/+1/+1/+1. Maximum value of any Proficiency is 3 + Level /5 (rounded-down). Add one point to one Proficiency value as Method 1. At 5th level, a specialist could be +4/+3/+2/+1/+1. But by 20th level it’s evened out at +7/+6/+6/+6/+1.

Why put this last, rather than as Method 1B? Well, because if I were to implement one of these ideas, this is the one I’d go with. Balances customisability with simplicity. What’s not to like?!