Friday, December 28, 2012

Edge of the Empire Beginner Box!

Today I picked up the Edge of the Empire Beginner Box from my FLGS.  I thought a great deal about whether or not I would actually purchase this since between the Beta version that I already bought and the Beta updates that Fantasy Flight Games provides on their website for free, I essentially have the full game already.  This won't be a review, namely because I haven't really had enough time to go over everything in the box, and because I've already reviewed the Beta.  I will simply attempt to answer the question "what was I thinking?"  No, I'm not trying to rationalize the purchase, I'm just summarizing what the game offers.

First off, the dice.  Fans of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game (WFRP) have mentioned online that the custom dice for that game are pretty pricey.  Like, we might expect $15 a pop for a set of these Star Wars dice once they come out.  That's almost as much as the whole box set on Amazon, and half what I paid at my FLGS.  Can't remember the source, but in any case it's the only way to get the physical dice at the moment.  I put the stickers from the Beta on some dice but something about them just feels off.  Which I'm sure is mostly psychological, but still.  Having 2 sets of dice will be nice in play.

Next is the novelty of it.  I've actually never bought one of these "box sets" for an RPG before, so I was pretty curious exactly how a somewhat crunchy game could be distilled down for beginners.  The included adventure does a really good job of it, and even for the experienced roleplayers who are new to the custom dice thing that might be really helpful.  Besides, I've actually taught people brand-new to RPing how to play using various systems, so it's cool to finally see a product designed to do exactly that. 

Another motivating factor is my preference for more rules-light systems.  Not that Edge of the Empire is particularly crunch-heavy, but it's not quite as "clean" as it could be.  There are some subsystems that are a little more complicated than they need to be, and it can be tough to sift through everything to expose the bare essentials of the system.  That Beta book is 222 pages of almost all crunch, after all.  I really like having a bare bones, streamlined version of the system.  The "lowest common denominator" as determined by the designers themselves.  I can add in the more complicated bits as necessary, or simply use them to fuel my own improvisation from the "base." 

New and improved character sheets and stat blocks.  Ok, so the stat blocks in the Rulebook are still the crappy space-saving pieces of trash that were in the Beta book, but the adventure includes stat blocks that are easy to reference in combat.  They're organized and laid out in a much more user-friendly way, and most importantly include graphical representations of relevant dice pools!  Same with the character folios; there's a column in the skill lists that shows the dice pools (2 green diamonds and a yellow hexagon for Pash's Charm skill, for example).  Anything that helps players (and GMs!) quickly grab the exact handful of dice that they need to roll is great in my book!  When I ran a quick solo playtest combat I didn't like having to look at two different numbers (the characteristic and the skill rank), then the difficulty, etc. every time I made my dice pool.  Those numbers just don't jump out at you when you quickly glance at the stat block or character sheet.  These graphical dice pools do, and I'll be using stat blocks and character sheets that make use of them exclusively when I play.  By the way, here you can find revised stat blocks for the adversaries from the Beta book (much thanks to the author who spent so much time putting those together!).  I'm working on my own custom character sheet with hollow green diamonds and yellow "o"s in a column on the skills list.  These can then be filled in to represent the dice pool.  Perhaps not as visually striking as the character folios, but much more practical for character advancement.

Finally, tokens and maps.  I started using tokens instead of minis when D&D 4E launched its Essentials line (thank you Monster Vaults I and II!).  They take up less space and they're WAY cheaper, making it much easier to accumulate (and carry!) enough to have multiple representations of whatever creature you're likely to need.  Plus cats don't find them as enticing as minis (too bad the dice still aren't safe...).  Now I have some Star Wars tokens, which will be a big help for such a little thing.  The maps, while just a simple 4-folded sheet of heavy paper, have more value than just the included adventure.  The cantina is generic enough to be used over and over again, perhaps making note of any differences without having to draw out a separate map.  The Mos Shuuta street map will be useful for groups that return to the city.  Most importantly, however, is the large map of the Krayt Fang, the YT-1300 Freighter that the party acquires at the end of the included adventure.  Heck, even if you don't use the included adventure most groups will probably have a YT-1300 anyways.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Second Game of 13th Age

A few days ago I played 13th Age for the first time, and everyone liked it so much that they asked me to run it again the next day.  I decided not to rely so fully on improvisation this time, because I think that was really throwing me off in the first session.  That said, I didn't do nearly as much prep as I would have for D&D.  I brainstormed a bit, thinking of a half dozen or so features or events that I wanted to include in the session, and I weaved them in as I deemed appropriate.

Narrative Summary
The first session started out with character creation, and then based on the icon rolls I determined that the party's mission was to travel north to the edge of the Dragon Wood to close a hellhole that was opening there.  They would first need to secure passage through the Undermarch, because they were sort of racing the clock; agents of the Crusader were also looking for this infant hellhole.  By the end of the first session they were in the general vicinity, finding large patches of charred forest.

At the start of this session (I should note that Whisp, the melee Ranger, was absent) the party stumbled upon a Gnome hermit named Nilku.  He asked what they were doing in his home, and when they told him they were informed that the hellhole has moved.  He showed them to its current location, where they battled some knights and a mage.  I had Lan roll his relationship dice with the Crusader (got a 6); he knew that these guys were called the Knights of Night (corny, eh?), and are an extremist branch of the Crusader's forces.  They're the guys he sends on suicide missions, and they gladly take them due to the strength of their convictions.  Always a dangerous mindset.  Anyways, the party killed the "guards" and descended down (though the opening wasn't hot, and didn't quite look like one would imagine a hellhole would).

This dungeon was geologically odd, the floor covered in fresh dirt and the walls an odd mixture of rocks.  Some of the passages "breathed," and some even rotated.  One room had a throne beside a worked stone wall, one of the arm rests containing a "handprint" pattern of gems with the gem for the center "palm" missing.  A room nearby had a row of pillars on either long end, and a solid black wall on the far side that was inscribed with runes.  When the Barbarian tried to approach the far wall he was hit by an "attack" and took a bunch of psychic damage and found it impossible to approach the rune wall.  Later on they found a village of Derro in a large, phosphorescent fungi-lined chamber, and they learned that the Derro monks go to the wall to have visions.  Upon visiting them the party saw that the monks had dried scabs coming from their ears and were so insane that they were unintelligible.  Such is the long term effect of the wall, apparently.

The party battled another group of knights, this time with a mage and a dark cleric for support (THAT was a tough fight!), and later on fought two knights (and an indiscriminately attacking ochre jelly) in a rotating passage.  Just before this fight I had the Drow Ranger roll his relationship dice with the Prince of Shadows, and he rolled a 5 and a 6.  I had his Unique activate (if you remember from the last post, he has been in the middle of enemy encampments without being caught).  He became engulfed in black, misty shadow, and then turned invisible.  He didn't look invisible to himself.  Helped him ambush the knights, though.  It was after this fight that I called it quits since it had gotten pretty late.

Note on Planning
Prepping for this session was a breeze.  I reskinned some monsters and created a few from scratch.  Even creating spellcasters from scratch (using the Wizard and Cleric spell lists) took just a few minutes.  Then I took a 4x6 index card and made a bullet-point list of things I wanted to include.  Some examples from this list:  "insane Derro live there," and "mushroom-choked passage that spins; ochre jelly, duel with knights."  Some of the more detailed areas had a couple of sub-points.  The key here is that I had a clear picture of what I was envisioning in my head, and 13th Age being gridless I simply had to describe it in-game from memory (making some embellishments on the fly) instead of mapping everything out.  For example, the whole Derro monk thing wasn't planned at all; I simply got the idea from what flowed naturally in-play and went with it.  It was very satisfying to see the players becoming just as immersed in this dungeon, if not moreso, than dungeons that I'd created for D&D and actually mapped out.  This just affirmed my growing preference for more rules-light systems.

The Barbarian
The other significant observation was that the Barbarian is a very underwhelming class.  His AC, even while using a shield, is lower than the Ranger's.  His damage output was also significantly lower.  The player was always very reluctant to use Whirlwind Attack, and no wonder!  The defensive penalty involved is too severe a drawback.  Every time he engaged with 2 opponents to attack them both he ended up on the ground shortly thereafter.

Rage doesn't compare favorably to Double Melee (or Ranged) attack, either.  It needs looser restrictions.  Critting roughly 25% of the time sounds nice on paper, sure, but a crit is simply double damage; a Ranger gets the same damage output by landing 2 attacks, and on top of that each of those attacks have their own chance at critting (given the crit-enhancing Ranger talents this will happen pretty frequently).  Yeah, even without a crit Barbarians have a better chance at hitting than a Ranger, but seeing as a natural even roll gives that Ranger an extra swing anyways it might be close to a wash.  The mechanics are close enough, anyways, that I don't think it would be all that unbalanced for a Barbarian to have constant access to Rage.  As it stands they're squishy, deal mediocre damage, and don't offer any tactical utility to make up for those shortcomings.

Yeah, their defenses look better than a Rogue's on paper, but the Rogue gets all kinds of defensive powers and can disengage really easily.  The Rogue has tricks up his sleeve to compensate for numerical disadvantages.  The Barbarian is just disadvantaged, and it doesn't seem like there's much he can do about it.

Anyone else finding this to be the case?  As it stand I simply cannot recommend a Barbarian.

Friday, December 21, 2012

First Game of 13th Age!!!!

Yep, you heard right, after MONTHS of being excited about this game I've finally gotten a chance to play it!  Character creation took around 2 hours with everyone sharing the screen with the PDF and with a lot of the story elements needing to be explained.  It was longer that I'd expected, but there was a lot of side conversation and people waiting around so I guess it wasn't totally unexpected.  We ended up with 2 Rangers (melee and ranged), a Barbarian, and a Cleric.  A Fighter joined the party about halfway through.  In hindsight I probably should have made some pregens, and just had players fill in Backgrounds, Icon Relationships, and One Unique Thing.  Oh well, hopefully they understand the game better now.

I guess the first thing I'll say is that everyone LOVED the system.  So much, in fact, that they asked me to run another session later today (we played yesterday evening).  Which is cool.  I actually felt like my GMing was pretty sub-par last night, through a combination of not having done it for several months and being kind of new to the whole improvisational plot points thing.  I didn't plan a single thing, I just went off of the characters' backstories and icon rolls.  Speaking of icon rolls, the start of session rolls resulted in FIVE icons getting a result of at least 5 or 6 (Crusader got both).  Note to self; when that happens, don't worry too much about fitting everything in.  I feel like my High Druid, Dwarf King, and Orc Lord stuff was just filler.  So yeah, gotta work on improvisation.  I imagine that'll just take a whole lot of practice.

Combats are short and sweet.  Well, I think I under-challenged the players (though the melee Ranger might disagree with that!).  I used all level 1 enemies and built "fair" fights.  I'll definitely up the stakes a bit next session, since everyone has a better sense of the rules now.  Twenty minutes for a balanced fight with 5 players and a healthy dose of side conversation is awesome, though.  Combat isn't as dynamic as 4th Edition D&D but moreso than 3rd, and much shorter than either.  We used minis but not a grid, and I think that's key.  When I've run Theater of the Mind without minis (for The One Ring), sometimes describing the surroundings and positioning can take time that is saved by simply plopping a mini down.  I like this middle ground.

Here's an overview of the characters we ended up with (note that I gave everyone 8 background points):

Lan (can't remember his own last name) - Human Cleric
-2 Relationship with Crusader, -1 with Diabolist
OUT:  Sent to hell because his family broke an oath with the Crusader, and he managed to escape (minus his memories from before hell).
Backgrounds:  Abyssal survivor +4, Ex-priest +4.

Gorthar - Drow Ranger (ranged)
+2 Relationship with Prince of Shadows, +1 with High Druid
OUT:  Has been in enemy encampments without being seen or caught, and he can't necessarily explain why.
Backgrounds:  Tracker (via Talent) +5, Assassin +4, Linguist +4

Mertle McTurtle - Dwarf Barbarian
1 (Conflicted) Relationship with Dwarf King, -2 with Orc Lord
OUT:  Can make beer out of ANYTHING.  Exiled from his clan for accidentally poisoning them with turtle beer (he doesn't always know how it'll turn out!)
Backgrounds:  Chef +4, Miner +2, Cartographer +2

Whisp - Human Ranger (melee)
+3 relationship with Prince of Shadows
OUT:  Has a perfectly round wooden ball that his father told him was from an ancient treasure horde (he doesn't know what it is or does).
Backgrounds:  Orphan +2, Treasure Hunter +2, Member of The Silence (a secret society) +4

McKeff - Human Fighter
No icons since he joined mid-session and had zero interest in them (whatever).
OUT:  Has a talking dog.
Backgrounds: a list of 4 overlapping ones, I remember two were Street Thug +2 and Gladiator +2.

Not bad, especially considering none of these players really have any story-game experience, mostly having played D&D (4E and 3E).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Hirelings in 13th Age

Here I present some optional homebrew rules for using hirelings in 13th Age.  This could certainly use some refinement, as it hasn't been playtested yet.  Comments and criticisms are welcome, especially from those who use hirelings in their own games!

A hireling's wages are paid in gold pieces per full heal up (or adventuring day), and is based on the hireling's level and adventuring role.  Use adventuring day to calculate wages during long periods without encounters, such as when traveling long distances.  While the specific price (as well as hireling availability) will vary based on location, local economy, and how dangerous the job is, GMs should consider using the following baselines.  Alternatively, some hirelings might demand a share of any profits (up to an equal share, in the case of Burglars and Warriors), possibly in addition to an initial fee paid up front.  Occasionally, the party may gain the benefit of free hirelings for successful Icon Relationship rolls.

Level     gp/FHU
1              5
2              6
3              8

Level     gp/FHU
1              20
2              24
3              34
4              42

Level     gp/FHU
1              50
2              62
3              85
4              105

Mercenary Warriors:
Level     gp/FHU
1              80
2              100
3              140
4              165

On the Subject of Pricing
Porters cost roughly 5% of the recommended maximum gp per character per full heal up.  Guides cost 20%, Burglars 50%, and Mercenary Warriors 80%.  The simple fact is, having another body in the party can be extremely useful, especially in the case of warriors (who can handle themselves relatively well in a fight) and burglars (who can increase the party's profits and reduce the dangers from traps).  In order to balance their presence, the PCs should be giving up a significant amount of potions, oils, and runes that they would otherwise spend their money on. 

While hirelings can be extremely useful, the party should take care to treat them well.  If word gets out that those hired by the PCs usually don't return, it's unlikely that they'll be able to find anyone willing to adventure with them, even for massively inflated prices.  On the other hand, if hirelings return to their home towns the wealthier for it, the party will probably enjoy the good will of the locals (and they'll likely be regarded as heroes if they actively protect their hirelings from danger).

Rumor has it that more competent hirelings can be found in Drakkenhall, but most civilized folk elsewhere in the Empire view those who hire them with some suspicion.

Hirelings can access recoveries in much the same way that PCs can, except that they are limited to only 1 Rally per combat.

Level 0 Mook, Initiative +1
Improvised or Basic Weapon +4 - 3 damage
HP 5, AC 14, PD 13, MD 12
Recoveries none

Level 2 Mook, Initiative +4
Improvised or Basic Weapon +6 - 5 damage
HP 9, AC 17, PD 15, MD 13
Recoveries none

Level 1 Troop, Initiative +4
One-Handed Sword (or similar) +6 - 5 damage
Show Them The Way! - Engaged Allies ignore Disengage penalties for multiple enemies.
HP 27, AC 16, PD 15, MD 13
Recoveries 4 - d6
Local Knowledge - Once per session the party can invoke the Guide's knowledge to learn something useful about the surroundings (location of an important feature, a correct path, peculiar local customs, etc.).  Roll 1d6.  1 - the Guide is misinformed, to the party's detriment.  2-4 the party learns something useful, but it costs them a setback or resources.  5-6 the party gains information without much (if any) cost.

Level 3 Troop, Initiative +6
One-Handed Sword (or similar) +8 - 10 damage
Show Them The Way! - Engaged Allies ignore Disengage penalties for multiple enemies.
HP 45, AC 18, PD 17, MD 15
Recoveries 4 - d6
Local Knowledge - Once per session the party can invoke the Guide's knowledge to learn something useful about the surroundings (location of an important feature, a correct path, peculiar local customs, etc.).  Roll 1d6.  1 - the Guide is misinformed, to the party's detriment.  2-4 the party learns something useful, but it costs them a setback or resources.  5-6 the party gains information without much (if any) cost.

Level 1 Troop, Initiative +7
Dagger or Short Sword +6 - 5 damage
Backstab - Burglars have a crit range of 18+ if they're ganging up or if the target is unaware of them.
HP 27, AC 16, PD 15, MD 13
Recoveries 4 - d6
Trap Sense:  If a trap's attack that targets the burglar is a natural odd roll, the burglar can force the trap to reroll the attack once.
Burglar Background:  The burglar can roll burglary-related skill checks (1d20+8)

Level 2 Troop, Initiative +8
Dagger or Short Sword +7 - 7 damage
Backstab - Burglars have a crit range of 18+ if they're ganging up or if the target is unaware of them.
HP 36, AC 17, PD 16, MD 14
Recoveries 4 - d6
Trap Sense:  If a trap's attack that targets the burglar is a natural odd roll, the burglar can force the trap to reroll the attack once.
Burglar Background:  The burglar can roll burglary-related skill checks (1d20+9)

Mercenary Warriors
Level 1 Troop, Initiative +4
One-Handed Martial Weapon +6 - 6 damage
Miss - 1 damage
Javelin +6 - 5 damage
HP 27, AC 17, PD 15, MD 11
Recoveries 6 - d8

Level 3 Troop, Initiative +6
One-Handed Martial Weapon +8 - 11 damage
Miss - 3 damage
Javelin +8 - 9 damage
HP 45, AC 19, PD 17, MD 13
Recoveries 6 - d8

Cross-posted at 13th Age Homebrew.   It's a collection of fan-created content; check it out!

Monster Ability Checks in 13th Age

One of the first things I noticed about monsters in 13th Age (which is still available for preorder as far as I know, but there are something like less than 20 Escalation Edition orders left) is that the monster stat blocks, while wonderfully simple (a GM's dream come true!) lacks any reference to a monster's attribute scores.  What happens when it makes sense in the fiction for a character to make an opposed Dex, Str, etc. check against a monster?

Rolling against the DC for your environment is perhaps the simplest solution, but there's something about opposed rolls that really captures the feel of "this guy vs. that guy."  Besides, what about opposing the Int of a really dumb ogre, or the Str of a tiny kobold?  The normal DCs might be a bit too high for that (though opposing the ogre's Str or the kobold's Dex could easily work by boosting the DC to the hard value for the environment).  Perhaps it's an aesthetic thing, but I'd really prefer that the numbers come from the monster than the environment.  And it's not that complicated to derive these scores.

For Str, Dex, Con checks, roll 1d20+(PD-10)
For Int, Wis, Cha checks, roll 1d20+(MD-10)

Optional Modifiers
Depending on which attribute your modified defense is standing in for, feel free to apply a +4 or -4 bonus/penalty (if it's worth adjusting the effect should be big enough to be noticeable, so just stick with +/- 4).  For example, a kobold is agile but small and fragile, so a Dex check modifier might be [PD-10+4], whereas a Str check modifier might be [PD-10-4], or you might simply not apply the penalty.  The goal here is simplicity, since attribute checks probably won't come up too often for monsters.

Why This Works
Think about how a player's MD/PD are determined.  You use the base value for your class (10-12, which once the 10 is subtracted out will correspond to a 0 to +2 "background" point value).  Then you add the median of your 3 relevant ability scores, and of course your level gets added as well.  Monster PD/MD is quite a bit simpler to determine (one only has to look at the chart), but the numbers are fairly consistent with what you might expect compared with the method used for PCs.

So in summary, PD/MD is essentially 10+[better/lesser bonus]+[attribute]+[level]

Similarly, a skill checks boils down to 1d20+[background]+[attribute]+[level]

All you really have to do is substitute a d20 roll for 10 (which itself is a substitute for an assumed average d20 roll; think of it as turning an opposed attack vs defense roll into a single roll (attack) compared against a target number).  The better/lesser bonus baked into the defense numbers is roughly comparable to the bonus a PC might get from a background (even if not exactly, it's not worth further complicating matters since this proposed system has the benefit of simplicity).  Attribute modifier and level are already both accounted for.  Finally, the optional modifier allows a GM to very easily tweak the numbers on-the-fly when the final results don't quite match up with expectations.

Now let's apply this to a monster from EE6 - the Kobold Hero.  His bonus for opposed Str/Con/Dex would be +6, while Int/Wis/Cha would be +2.

So what kind of challenge is this little kobold supposed to present to a party of heroes?  The agility of kobolds is pretty well-established, so he should be pretty comparable to a 2nd level Rogue.  The Rogue would get a +6 (assuming an 18 Dex) even without any backgrounds, which he would probably have if a Dex check is involved.  Depending on the reason for the roll, that +4 optional bonus might be worth applying.  After all, Kobolds are already Evasive and good with traps, so they deserve a boost when it comes to tasks that require quick reflexes or when dealing with traps.

On the other hand, kobolds are known to be pretty weak, relying on overwhelming numbers and craftiness instead of physical strength.  Plus they're small, probably even smaller than Halfling PCs.  A +6 for opposed Str checks doesn't seem quite right, so we'll apply that -4 penalty without much hesitation.

The mental attributes probably aren't worth messing around with too much, but I'd definitely apply the +4 bonus if the roll involved traps or dirty tricks of some kind, and I might apply a +4 bonus to Cha rolls when dealing with kobolds (since the kobold hero is a leader), but a -4 bonus when dealing with almost everyone else (since few folk like kobolds).

This system has the advantages of using the monster's own existing statistics for opposed rolls without crowding up the stat block with ability scores, as well as being extremely simple to apply.  As a GM you're doing 2 things:  subtracting 10 from either PD or MD, and then tweaking that result with a +/- 4 to ensure the end result is consistent with expectations.

How I love transparent math.

Cross-posted to 13th Age Homebrews, an awesome resource still in its infancy that seeks to collect a lot of fan-created material in one place.  Check it out for more ideas!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Unification of Fiction and Mechanics in Combat

A couple weeks back I picked up the PDF for Dungeon World.  There's been quite a lot of buzz about this game ever since the Kickstarter, and now I know why.  This is not a review article, however (perhaps I'll write one later, but this is one game I'd like to actually play first).  The game's most salient feature is that it not only emphasizes the fiction of the game world over mechanics, but defines the mechanics through the game's fiction.  There is a very simplified list of "moves," and these can only be triggered by events described by the player (namely what a character does, and often the intent of that action as well).  My curiosity is certainly piqued; it seems like play boils down to a conversation between GM and Players, with the rules helping to move that conversation along (giving the GM plenty of tools to do the same).  It really got me thinking.

Well, actually Dungeon World caused thoughts that I was already having to snowball, thoughts inspired by the 4E D&D supplement Combat In Motion (reviewed by me here).  Combat In Motion seeks to solve certain issues in 4E combat where the mechanics don't accurately represent the fiction, or needlessly break up the narrative.  I'll simply quote the book's author here regarding 2 of the new off-turn actions (he was kind enough to provide a lengthy email commentary after reading my review):


This rule was initially developed to address what I call the "Sir Lancelot" problem. 

If you have never seen the comedy film, "Monty Python's Holy Grail" -- see it! There's a strange sequence in the movie where Sir Lancelot can be seen running toward the camera from a great distance. Two sentries at a castle gate watch his approach. He is miles away yet the sentries do nothing. Lancelot keeps running yet never seems to get closer. Still the sentries are unmoved. Suddenly Lancelot is there and decapitates them both. 

How did he do it? 

Lancelot must have been a player of 4E!

As you note, in D&D 4E, a creature can cross a vast distance and the targets of its charge can do absolutely nothing about it. In Enhanced 4E, it's different; a humanoid creature of speed 6 can sprint a maximum of 17 paces before his enemies may flee or move to engage him.

Of course, Outpace can also be used by a group of allies to advance together: An option that is now especially valuable when advancing against an enemy force with ranged weapons. 


This action too was an outgrowth of the Sir Lancelot problem. Now when Lancelot charges the castle, the defenders can riddle him with ranged shots while he remains on open ground. 

In standard 4E, defenders could do this only if they were prescient enough to "ready" a ranged shot---and once they took this shot it was gone. So to hold off a would-be charge, the ranged defenders would have to keep their standard action readied and never actually use it. Moreover, because of the hit point system, the one shot they did get wasn't terribly dangerous to most player characters---so it failed to discourage crazy charges. By making a hit from an interdict slow the progress of a moving creature, it gives ranged defenders the potential to hit multiple times a creature that foolishly allows itself to get caught in open ground."

While I'd already supported the introduction of these 2 actions after reading the book, the author's rationale really made them "click."  These weren't simply rules that were "kinda neat" from the perspective of tactical play.  These were rules that support the fiction of the game!  Ultimately, the draw of a Tabletop RPG is that your character can attempt anything, as opposed to a video game where characters can't interact with certain objects or can't enter certain areas because the designers never coded those possibilities.  A lot of times RPG rules act more like computer code, restricting player options, unless the GM is skilled enough to put the rules aside in certain cases.  Many times players won't even think about it, though (I know I never thought about how absurd it was that 4E creatures could cover such vast distances without fear of a reaction just because combat is designed to be turn-based).  

Admittedly there's no "one true solution" for making game mechanics that fit as seamlessly as possible into the game's fiction.  Dungeon World takes it to a bit of an extreme, and some players will prefer more structure than that system offers.  For example, there are no combat rounds, you simply continue your conversation, triggering "moves" where applicable, and your fellow players are expected to jump in and react to the unfolding story.  Combat In Motion seeks to patch 4E, eliminating the most egregious offenders in terms of rules that contradict the common sense of the fiction.  

To put forward another example from a game that I've been talking and reading a lot about lately, 13th Age uses a turn-based structure for combat but introduces rules for a lot of free-form elements.  One of my favorite new rules from the Escalation Edition ver. 6 is Situational Weapon Use; basically, if the narrative suggests that a dagger would be more useful than a big greataxe (for example, fighting while grabbed or in a confined space) then the damage dice get reversed (daggers would gain a higher die and bigger weapons would deal d4s).  Many classes also gain free-form resources allowing them to improvise elements of the fiction for mechanical gain.  

Obviously game mechanics are necessary to arbitrate outcomes and to somewhat represent the physics of the game world.  Otherwise it's less a game, and more the players simply making up a story as they go along.  But adhering to the rules even when they don't make sense is undesirable, and some rules can do a better job than others at providing the flexibility needed to work around these conflicts.  

Ultimately, humans have an intuitive sense of how the world works by virtue of the fact that we live in it and interact with it every day.  Rigid, complex simulationist rules might seem like a fair way model the game world, but not all corner cases can be covered.  Sometimes simple mechanics that play off of the fiction and appeal to common sense can be more realistic.  As a player and especially as a GM, it pays to scrutinize rules and ask "why does this rule work the way it does?"  "Is this rule doing what I need it to do?"  "What alternative rules might work better?"  Knowing how to answer these questions will go a long way in deciding what system is "right" for your group.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On the 13th Age Fighter's Flexible Attacks

There was a recent discussion on the Pelgrane Press forums about whether or not Flexible Attacks are a desirable mechanic for 13th Age.  The main concern is that the Fighter, the ultimate warrior archetype, "doesn't get to choose how to attack" (HomegrownHydra on Dec 1st).  Or, put another way, "it's hard to feel narratively empowered when a random dice roll determines the very thing you attempted to do rather than its mere success or failure" (lessthanpleased on Nov 25th). 

Here's my take on the issue.  Sometimes all it takes for a mechanic to be viewed favorably is for it to be explained well.  I think the Player Sidebar under Flexible Attacks does a poor job of this, implying that flexible attacks are limiting:  "you can be certain the attack you're describing plays out the way you're telling it because you'll already know if you hit or missed."  I can easily see this leading to the perception that flexible attacks mean "roll to determine what you can attempt."  And yes, saying "you can't do that" runs counter to the design philosophy of 13th Age.  Rather than saying your options (in the fictional game world) are restricted by your die roll (a model in the real world), consider the following example.

A Ranger (with the Double Melee or Double Ranged Attack talents) defaults to attempting a double attack with their action.  It's not that they're not swinging both weapons when they roll odd, but rather the second attack simply didn't hit, or the opponent never presented an opening, etc.  The die rolls for the player are not contradicting the fiction of the multi-attacking Ranger.  Or at least I haven't heard of any player complaints to the contrary. 

Think of a Fighter's flexible attacks in the same way, but with an added twist.  The attack roll resolves TWO actions, the first being the attack (determined by comparing the die roll with the target's AC) and the second being the intended secondary effect that the Fighter is attempting (based on the natural result of the d20).  Say that a Fighter says "I'm going to Shield Bash this fool" but rolls a 17.  Odd number indicates that the shield bash part of the attack failed (analogous to an attack that simply rolls too low to hit AC).  But wait, the Fighter is SO GOOD at fighting that at the last minute he can decide to do something ELSE with his action.  "Roll of natural 16+, I'll use Precision Attack instead!"  One way to narrate it would be that the shield bash, while not strong enough to pop the opponent off of you, did cause it to momentarily lower its defenses allowing for a quick jab.  Point being, just because you don't HAVE to telegraph intent by choosing a flexible attack beforehand (unlike, say, the Rogue, who does choose a specific power) doesn't mean that you HAVE to wait until after the die roll to decide the fiction. 

In short, rather than saying that your Fighter just attempts whatever the flow of battle allows him to react to, think of the Fighter as failing in his initial attempt but getting a second chance at doing something else (assuming he triggers a different maneuver).  Or, alternatively, you can simply say that your Fighter will rush in and then attempt whatever he sees an opening for.  Different perspectives on the same mechanic, neither of which limit the fiction of what your character attempts.