Monday, December 19, 2011

[Greyhawk] Weapons & Armor

So from my last post, I wrote about looking for a way to address Weapons and Armor in a High Fantasy “old school gameworld” implementation of Fate.

It’s currently looking like this cut of Spirit of Greyhawk will leverage Strange Fate’s tiering, so I felt there was a need to leave the basic 4dF dice mechanic alone.

The other reason I want to leave 4dF intact was because I wanted to have the possibility of a -4 dice roll still be a real danger. Additionally, I wanted weapon damage to have a degree of randomness also.

So given that Spirit of Greyhawk is meant to be “old school” (in case the name didn’t make it clear), this seemed an interesting opportunity to make use of the old school dice (d4, d6, d8, d12, d20).

This means that for weapons that do more damage, use dice with higher maximums. You can also use the d6 and get a 1d2 or 1d3.

So I currently am working with the following progression:
(No bonus), d2, d3, d4, d6, d8, d12, and so on…

Next, you’d need to determine how much granularity you want in weapon damage. For example, DFRPG has 4 levels of weapon damage to cover everything from a pen-knife to dynamite. The Weapons Table in the PHB reflects 9 different combinations of damage dice, so 9 levels of weapon damage before you even got into things like explosives, dragon breath and ballista. I sided more closely with the Fate-y portion of the spectrum an currently have mundane melee and missile weapons using 5 levels of damage bonuses, from a Sling Bullet (no weapon bonus) up to the Halberd and Two-Handed Sword (1d6).

Example: A Fighter with Melee +2, wielding a Two-Handed Sword (1d6), would have the following range:

4dF (dice) + 1d6 (weapon) + 2 (skill) = range of -1 (minimum) to +12 (maximum), with an average of 6.

By setting the damage modifier as it’s own die which is visually separate from the Fudge dice, I think it becomes easier to distinguish between the hit and the damage, if you decide you want to do that.

Since most old-school d6’s use numbers on the die face instead of pips, you can separate Strange Fate tiering d6s from a SoG damage d6 by having the tiering use pips and damage armor use numbers.


Armor works in a consistent fashion to weapons, with the armor die increasing the defender’s shifts specific to receiving damage. The source material has 9 ranks of mundane armor, from Unarmored at AC 10, down to Plate Mail + Shield at AC 2.

Working from a subjective assumption that the best armor could conceivably negate the most damaging weapon (more from a game balance perspective than any basis in reality), that puts the highest mundane armor die as a d6. So then that means you’d have 4 ranks of armor bonus dice (d2, d3, d4, d6) to divide among 8 ranks of armor classes that are actual armor (AC 9 to AC 2). Rather than just have a die increase every two ranks, I prefer to reserve the best armor of AC 2 as being the only one at the d6. Your mileage may vary.

Example: Given the same fighter above, but with Plate Mail (no shield, due to the two handed sword), places her at AC 3. This means that in SoG she would roll an additional d4 for her defense rolls.

Statted out with the same assumptions in the original example, you would have the following range:

4dF (dice) + 1d4 (armor) + 2 (skill) = -1 (minimum) to +10 (maximum), with an average of 5.

Enchanted Weapons & Armor

SoG’s source material references basic magic improvements as a +1, +2, and so on. Rather than add just straight shift increases (+1 stress box for a +1 enchantment is too much bonus for this gameworld), I chose to just modify the die being used for the mundane (base) Weapon / Armor enhancement.

If you consider the weapon/armor damage-die progression as a ladder (something all Fate types should be familiar with), then the bonus would represent the number of shifts up the damage ladder.

This would mean that a weapon/armor ladder could look like this:

  • (...progressing on upwards...)
  • d12
  • d8
  • d6
  • d4
  • d3
  • d2
  • (No bonus die)

Example: A dagger has a base (mundane) damage of 1d2. A dagger +1 would instead roll 1d3 (one shift up the ladder from a 1d2) for the weapon bonus. A dagger +2 would instead roll two shifts up from a 1d2, and be a 1d4.

The other reason I don’t want to get into a lot of +1 / -1 manipulations, is that I don’t want to dilute the idea that the most valuable currency in the resolution process is a character’s skill, more than the magical bonuses. Skills are what allows for straight shifts (no die roll) in the min/max range range, and I believe that’s an important distinction that should be retained.

Also, by shifting the damage dice up and down, you also leave open the possibility for more powerful enchanted weapons to grant tiering-type bonuses in addition to shifts up the weapons ladder.

Friday, December 9, 2011

[Greyhawk] NaGa DeMon Post-Mortem

Working on getting Spirit of Greyhawk ready in a state to complete the NaGa DeMon contest in the month of November more or less precluded any real posting in November.  In the final analysis, I would have to say it was a great learning experience.  While I’m not a professional writer like Mike, if you’re an amateur like me and you have hopes of someday getting a Fate implementation to a playable state, you owe it to yourself to find something like this contest to motivate you to make that extra push.

So, lessons learned: 

You’re Doing it Wrong

I’ve said it in previous posts, but I discovered roadblocks will come up if a design wasn’t “right”.  Of course the definition of “right” is subjective, but I believe you’re on the right track with a piece of design when roadblocks vanish and at the same time you get a burst of creative energy to push through other parts of design.   

So when I got stuck, almost every time it was because what I was trying to do wasn’t “right”.

Example:  Weapon and Armor damage modifiers.  Quite a few variations were attempted within SoG...

  • No weapon damage modifiers (a la SotC RAW)
  • No weapon damage modifiers but weapon-specific maneuvers (the previous frontrunner)
  • “Standard Issue” positive or negative shifts associated with weapon/armor selections.
  • Different colored dice (see this post for white/blue/red dice having different potential for +1 shifts)

...and while there’s nothing wrong with any of those options in and of themselves, nothing was hitting the sweet-spot between crunchy enough for a Fantasy game in the world of Greyhawk, and still be streamlined enough for a Fate implementation. 

Every time I looked at Weapons and Armor I would just sigh and wonder if it was “close enough”.  Plus whenever I considered related design issues I kept running into the same-old question marks in addition to finding new ones:  handling enchanted items with straight adds, other combat-related effects from enchantments (ye olde Vorpal sword effect) and so forth.  In other words, it wasn’t “right”.

Necessity is the Mother of Translation

Before the contest, I would hit roadblocks and set them aside to fix at the generic designation of “later”.  My thinking was that I could work around the roadblock and by the time I circled back to it, I would be able to have enough work done in other areas that the solution to the roadblock would become obvious (like playing “Minesweeper”).  Prior to NaGa DeMon, I hadn’t come back to address my “later” list too often...

However once I had a serious deadline, I didn’t have time to set anything aside, especially an important part of the game.  So I had to circle back around to any roadblocks I had pretty quickly.

This was when I realized the real danger of the “circling back around” method...  Typically the design pieces you try to work on first are pretty important to the game.  So if you wait too long to solve the roadblock in an important section of the game, you may find yourself painted into a corner by the time you get back around to the it.  I still had to solve the original problem, and at the same time ended up having to rip out a lot of work that I had done while working around the roadblock.

Example:  Continuing on from the above example, I was certain I needed damage variations for Spirit of Greyhawk, I couldn’t figure out how to do it within the constraints of the scale in which Greyhawk considered weapons. 

Specifically the source material’s weapon listing showed something like 9 different variations in weapon damage, but the very high end of the damage scale (halberd, two-handed sword) would only result in what translated to a SINGLE box on the physical stress track (at best).  Now of course skill and luck (and Aspects/Fate Points) are the main currencies of stress in Fate, so how do you add gradients of (perceived?) crunch into weapons and armor without blowing them out of proportion with how they work in the gameworld?

Additionally, everything I was trying didn’t seem to fit so well with the dice mechanic I was using for Wizardry (2dF+2).  So far, playtesting has shown that people kept having to remind themselves which dice mechanic to use for which type of thing was being tried.

When In Doubt, Go Back to the Gameworld

Perhaps even more frustrating than the “I have no idea how to design this” type of roadblock, were those situations where I had too many choices.  Specifically when I had made the decision to design a piece of the game in one way, only to discover that a very similar piece of the world had previously been designed in a different way.  Leaving those differences in place wouldn’t work and would feel pretty arbitrary and patchwork.

Specificially, I hit plenty of design disconnects that had to be reconciled when I tried to stitch together portions of the game from which I only had “initial notes” that had been worked on at different times.

During the course of the month, I learned that the answer was almost always to be found by looking at how those different designs work within the gameworld.  Specifically the design that feels most “right” is the one that supported player expectations of the gameworld and at the same time supports the Fate “fractal design theory”--which for me meant that if the design also got me excited for designing other areas of the game, it’s probably the “right” answer.

Example, cont.:  Despite the fact that all my initial tests on different colored dice mechanics during NaGa DeMon appeared to be okay, but it didn’t really feel “right” and didn’t provide the excitement I hoped it would.  Specifically my playtesting showed that it slowed down skill contests “just enough” that it didn’t feel Fate-like anymore.  (Not a criticism on the concept of the mechanic, just reporting my results)

Additionally, while I felt I could statistically justify the entire removal of weapon damage (instead having the only weapon distinctions be focused on manuevers), that didn’t feel “right” either for a high fantasy campaign, what with all the tropes that center on weapons. To say nothing of what that decision might mean for magic weapon bonuses, etc...

So I went back to the gameworld and came away with the rather obvious assumption that if you had two fighters of the same skill and armor, the one with the better weapon had the upper hand.

This confirmed my feeling that weapons needed some degree of variation, but how to accomplish this without breaking the existing dice mechanics, and doesn’t slow down play pacing past counting up the dice you throw?

...To Be Continued?

Well, I did come up with the current “right” answer.  I feel it’s “right” because this new (latest?) method for handling weapon damage also addresses (or plays nicely with)...

  • Enchanted weapon bonuses
  • Pointing to opportunities for different types of weapon damage other than “just” +1, +2, along with potential to deal with high-powered artifacts
  • Doesn’t appear to slow down combat resolution
  • Effects of armor and enchanted armor
  • Provides different grades of weapon damage (not 9 different ones, but still)
  • Doesn’t appear to blow up the current 1 stress = 10hp conversion scale
  • Gives players a sense of “ohhh, this is gonna be GOOOD” or “ohhhh, this is gonna be BAAAD” when the dice are picked up

So, anyone interested in hearing specifics?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

[Anglerre] Gettin' Medieval

So! Because I just listened to this Yog-Sothoth podcast recording of the Cubicle 7 panel from Dragonmeet and my name was mentioned, I figure I can go ahead and talk about this thing I'm working on.

It's a supplement for Legends of Anglerre focused on France in the early-ish Middle Ages, from the crowning of Charlemagne in 768 to the crowning of William the Conqueror (or "the Bastard," depending on your political affiliations) in 1066. There's a lot going on in those 300-ish years, and I don't know if I've ever seen an RPG product that's really tried to cover it.

We're going for a mostly historical version of France, but with mythical and otherwise supernatural elements included as easily integrated options. Magic will be handled as the people of the time would've understood it -- i.e., largely concerned with demons, and the consorting therewith. The alchemy fad hadn't really hit Europe yet, but contact with the East was pretty common, so we'll likely include some material on that, too. Of course, the LOA magic system makes this a pretty simple thing to do, so whatever your magic preferences, it probably won't take up much of the book (because it won't need to).

Some things you can expect to do with this material:
  • Fight off Saracens as Charlemagne's paladins
  • Investigate injustice as members of the missi dominici
  • Defend Paris from Vikings (or try, anyway)
  • Take up arms in one of many civil wars
  • Hunt down long-lost (or stolen!) relics
  • Battle the Tarasque
  • Betray Roland!
  • And much, much more which isn't so combat-oriented, honest
Anyway, I'm super-excited about it and neck-deep in research, which accounts for my long periods of silence on the ol' blog(s) here. That high-school French is really paying off!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

[Kerberos] A Small Menagerie

(Cross-posted on

You may be aware of an incredible event that took place recently. If you were there, one day you will tell your grandchildren about it. If you weren't, you've no doubt heard about it by now. I'm speaking, of course, about the live Q&A chat-thingie Benjamin Baugh and I participated in last week on the IRC channel. The topic, of course, was The Kerberos Club (FATE Edition).

(Incidentally, there's a sweet sale going on through December 15th -- $10 off on the print-and-PDF bundle, or, if you already own it, trade in your first printing for the second printing for only $10+s/h. Click on the link up there for more details.)

Going in, I'd fully expected to just sit back and watch the questions for Ben roll by, but to my surprise, I had to do a lot of typing. A lot of fast typing. Moderator Dan Davenport had a bunch of questions to keep me busy, and there were plenty flying at me from everyone else. So yeah -- good times. It's always gratifying to see other people's enthusiasm for the book.

One thing that came up was that people wanted to see some write-ups for animals. There's already a horse write-up in there (on page 98) -- something of a "hero" horse, complete with skills, stress tracks, and consequences. But unless you count Archibald Monroe, Kemnebi Meti, or the Pre-Human Horror, that's the only animal in there. And I don't know about you, but I have entirely too much respect for Dr. Archibald (and fear of the other two) to think that.

So here is the first of at least two posts of statted-out animals. Season to taste, as always.

Sewer Rat (Average Minion)
The bane of civilized society

  • Average (+1): Physical
  • Aspects:
    • Ravenous Vermin
    • Swarm! Swarm!
    • Swimming in Disease
  • Gifts:
    • Impact: Physical scope
Notes: Individually, of course, rats aren't a big deal. It's when there's a whole swarm of them that they pose a danger. Terrifyingly so, in fact. To reflect this, put more than five of them in a group. Their Impact Gift can give them a reliable advantage in combat. The consequences they deal should involve disease more often than not, although the specifics, of course, are up to the GM.

Wolf (Fair Minion)
Savage forest hunter

  • Fair (+2): Physical (E)
  • Average (+1): Mental
  • Aspects:
    • Pack Mentality
    • Dogged Pursuit
    • Keen Senses
Notes: Is it really so unreasonable to find wolves in London? Not werewolves, mind you -- just regular ones. Hyde Park is huge, for one thing. Who knows what's in there? And I saw a fox once by St. Paul's, so it seems likely enough to me.

Gorilla (Adversary)
Imported from the Dark Continent

  • Great (+4): Brawn (E)
  • Good (+3): Athletics (E), Intimidation
  • Fair (+2): Endurance (E), Alertness, Survival
  • Aspects:
    • Powerful Arms and Jaws
    • Daunting Displays of Dominance
    • Fearsome Teeth
  • Gifts:
    • Theme: +1 Survival in native environment, Use Intimidation instead of Resolve to defend against fear/intimidation, Use Brawn instead of Fists when fighting unarmed
    • Equipment: Teeth (Deadly x2: Weapon 2 [Health], Aspect: Ripping and Tearing)
    • Impact: Brawn
  • Tier Benefits
    • Weapon 1 [Health] (Weapon 3 [Health] with Teeth)
    • Armor 1 [Health]
    • Move 1 zone as a free action (run/leap/climb)
  • Stress and Consequences:
    • Health: OOO OO [Armor 1]
    • Mental: OOO
Notes: An adult silverback is going to be a challenge for a great many Strangers; the average Londoner, of course, doesn't stand much of a chance. You'll notice that the Equipment Gift has been used here to quantify something that's most definitely not mere Equipment -- the gorilla's teeth. Using Equipment like this is a good way to give your animals a little more fine-grain detail. If you want to get a little more Howardian about it, give it an aspect of "Albino Man-Eater."

Great Cat (Adversary)
Suitable for all manner of lions and tigers

  • Great (+4): King of the Jungle (E)
  • Good (+3): Alertness (E), Stealth
  • Fair (+2): Brawn (E), Endurance, Survival
  • Unique and Strange Skills:
    • King of the Jungle (Strike, Dodge, Move, Leap, Climb, Menace + Zone)
  • Aspects:
    • The Incomparable Grace of a Jungle Cat
    • Claw/Claw/Bite
    • Intimidating Roar
    • Majestic Beast
  • Gifts:
    • Theme: Use King of the Jungle instead of Resolve to defend against fear/intimidation, +1 Survival in native environment, +2 Stealth with maneuvers
    • Equipment: Teeth and Claws (Deadly: Weapon 1 [Health], Well-Made: +1 King of the Jungle with Strike)
    • Impact: King of the Jungle
    • Signature Aspect: Majestic Beast
  • Tier Benefits
    • Weapon 1 [Health] (Weapon 2 [Health] with Teeth and Claws)
    • Move 1 zone as a free action (run/leap)
  • Stress and Consequences:
    • Health OOO OO
    • Composure OOO
Notes: If you're a purist, you'll want to make some adjustments to differentiate between lions and tigers (tigers are generally larger and fiercer), but unless you're having a lion-vs.-tiger cage match, this write-up should do fine for either of them.

Anaconda (Fair Minion)
Sinister serpent of the Amazon

  • Fair (+2): Physical (E)
  • Average (+1): Mental
  • Aspects:
    • Huge Aquatic Snake
    • Tightening Coils
    • Strong as Steel Cable
  • Gifts:
    • Equipment: Constricting Coils (Deadly x1: Weapon 1 [Health], Well-Made: +1 Physical)
Notes: While this anaconda is a Minion, it's pretty easy to turn it into an Adversary if you want something more like a giant anaconda (which probably doesn't exist, but whatever). Keep the same aspects, use the gorilla's skill pyramid (I realize this sounds crazy, but it works) and Theme Gift, and give it a Minor Invulnerability to physical strength. This is a weird one, I know, and not how we usually use Invulnerability, but it means that whenever it has someone in its coils, its Brawn defense against that person's escape attempts is two Power Tiers higher. Because it is a giant anaconda.

Elephant (Adversary)
Asiatic or African, as you please

  • Superb (+5): Tough Hide (E)
  • Great (+4): Stampede (E)
  • Good (+3): Resolve, Alertness
  • Fair (+2): Brawn (S), Survival
  • Aspects:
    • Prehensile Trunk
    • Tough Hide
    • Ivory Tusks
    • Massive Size
    • Stampede!
  • Unique and Strange Skills:
    • Tough Hide (Resist Damage, Stress Capacity [Health])
    • Stampede (Move, Strike + Zone; Minor Snag: No free movement unless using also Stampede to attack in the same round)
    • Minor Invulnerability: Bludgeons
  • Gifts:
    • Equipment: Tusks (Deadly: Weapon 2 [Health], Alternate Use: Use Brawn instead of Fists for unarmed combat)
    • Theme: +2 Brawn with maneuvers, +1 Survival in native environment, Ignore penalties to movement from barriers/physical obstructions equal to or less than Great (+4) Stampede
  • Tier Benefits:
    • Weapon 2 [Health] (Weapon 4 [Health] with Tusks)
    • Armor 1 [Health]
    • Move 1 zone as a free action when attacking with Stampede
  • Stress and Consequences:
    • Health: OOO OO [Armor 1]
    • Composure: OOO O
Notes: If you have a rampaging elephant in the streets of London, you pretty much need a Kerberan if you want something done about it. (Preferably, not the Kerberan who was responsible for putting it there in the first place.) Its Theme Gift basically lets it charge wherever it wants without much regard for walls or anything else that might be in its way.

Next time: dinosaurs!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

[Fantasy] Another Magic Idea

Sometimes -- on a pretty regular basis, even -- a post will appear on to the effect of "I'm interested in FATE, but is there a good, simple, easy magic system for it?" I'm not sure why FATE in particular seems to attract this kind of inquiry so often. Occasionally, someone will ask something similar about Savage Worlds, but rarely does it come up with regards to most other generic systems.

Sure as the changing of the seasons, one such thread popped up a couple days ago, prompting myself and others to chime in with the usual round of responses. Specifically, the poster, disturbingly named irate fetus, was looking for "preferably something along the lines of DnD levels/spells per day." Fair enough.

Many responded to the call, including me, because I'm a sucker for that (and because it was pretty easy to plug Guy's Spirit of Greyhawk stuff on this very blog, which goes after AD&D-style "levels/spells per day" as a point of design). Building on something TheUnshaven suggested, and with helpful advice from TheMouse, I came up with something that also incorporated some of my own long-neglected, half-formed ideas. I think it's worth exploring here on the blog.

Suppose there is a magic-oriented skill called, I dunno, Magic. What you can do with this skill is determined by a magic-related aspect you have, like "Druid" or "Fire Mage" or something.

Give yourself a second skill pyramid that peaks at your Magic skill rating. So if you have Good (+3) Magic, your pyramid's apex is Good (+3). This is your spell pyramid. It has one Good (+3) slot, two Fair (+2) slots, and three Average (+1) slots. So far, they're all blank.

Every time you cast a spell, you claim one of the spell pyramid's slots, and use its rating as a bonus to your roll, just as if it were a skill. When you're out of blank slots, you're out of spells to cast for the day.

You know a number of spells equal to your Magic skill rating. Again, if it's Good (+3), you know three spells. Write 'em down. They only have to be names, and you only have to have a general idea about what they do -- don't sweat the details. So if your magic aspect is "Fire Mage," for example, your spells might be Fireball, Wall of Fire, and Flaming Bolt.

When you cast a spell, pick one of your spells and say what it's doing. It can Attack, Defend, Maneuver, Assess, or Block -- the standard FATE stuff. Whatever it is, it has to make sense within the confines of your general idea of what the spell does. You'll have a hard time Assessing with Fireball, for example, but an easy time Blocking with Wall of Fire. However, if you want to Attack with Wall of Fire, go ahead. It makes sense, after all, seeing as how it's on fire. You just won't be able to Block with it as well.

(Could you work in two effects, like Attacking and Blocking? Probably, if you spend a Fate Point. That seems reasonable. Still has to make sense, though.)

If you manage to get more than one magic aspect, like "Pyromancy" and "Divination," you get to write down another batch of spells befitting the new aspect, which means more types of things to do with your spell pyramid. How do you get magic aspects? Maybe with a stunt. That also seems reasonable.

You might prefer to have multiple magic-related skills instead, like a Pyromancy skill and a Divination skill, with attached aspects. This is perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of. In that case, the spell pyramid's apex is equal to the highest magic skill you have, but the rating of the spell pyramid slot for a given spell can't exceed its related skill rating. So if you have Good (+3) Pyromancy and Average (+1) Divination, you can use any slot for Pyromancy, but only the Average (+1) slots for Divination.

There is still the question of how these spell slots work, in terms of their ratings. Is that the only bonus you add to your roll, or do you add it and your Magic (or Pyromancy or etc.) skill? The latter seems a little unbalanced, although if you have a different skill for each sphere of magic, it also seems kinda necessary. Otherwise, those skills are just taking up real estate in your skill pyramid, and that's no fun. With a singular Magic skill, though, that skill could be used as a sort of magical Academics -- knowing about magic, as opposed to applying it. I suppose the same could be done with more specialized skills, but you probably wouldn't get as much use out of them.

The last piece of the puzzle is how to clear those spell slots so they can be reused. There needs to be a way. Obviously, sleeping for the night should do it, especially if we're kinda trying to emulate D&D, but I also want you to be able to clear them on the fly, in the heat of the moment. My initial ideas for that bordered on punitive -- that's our me! -- but TheMouse quickly set me straight by mixing together two of them.
The more mathematically sound way seems to be that you can clear up a spell slot with a rank equal to or less than the number of shifts your sacrificed Consequences are worth, +2 for each fate point expenditure. So if you do a Minor (2) and a single fate point, you can clear out a spell slot worth up to +4.
That sounds pretty good.

So that's the gist of it. If I have a more concrete application for it at some point, I'll do more with it, but for now it's something for you to fold, spindle, or mutilate, as you will. Comments welcome, of course.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

[Anglerre] Update on the Companion

Hey hey, folks. A number of people have been asking me about the Anglerre Companion, and both of them wanted to know when it'd be available. So here's an update from Sarah Newton (by way of on that very issue:

The Legends of Anglerre Companion is in layout at the moment. I saw the first couple of chapters on Monday, and they were looking great. I'm hoping we'll be going to the printer in a couple of weeks; we *may* make before Christmas, but with the vagaries of publishing and shipping over the Christmas period, to be honest my guess is that we'll just be the other side, so very early January. 
It's a bumper beast with a cracking Ralph Horsley cover and stuffed with all kinds of fantasy Fate goodness, new critters, scenarios, rules, maps, cities... Thanks for waiting for it - we hope you'll like what you see!
Bumper beast! Cracking! She is an English person.

So there you go. I'm really looking forward to it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

[Greyhawk] A Question of Granularity…

NOTE:  This is gonna be a bit unpolished, as NaGa DeMon is eating into the other 98% of my waking moments.  (Day-job? What day-job? Family?  What family?)

In my previous article of SoG magic and spell translation, I made the following statement…

“A single hit die is a D8, so technically each stress box counts as 2 hit dice. Which also means that the average hit points from 2HD would be about 9 or 10. Which would also place the average damage per missile at 4 points (3 + 1), which would then mean 2 missiles would be needed to do enough damage to take out 1 stress box. Rather than worry about the exact number of missiles in the description, I would rather just simplify to 1 missile equal 1 stress box.”

…so 10 hit points = 1 stress box.  Which then leads to some interesting observations (at least to me it does)…

  • SotC characters would translate somewhere in the range of around 50 hit points.
  • In the source material, a magic weapon with a whompin’ +5 bonus counts as HALF of one stress box in SoG.
  • There are only 2 mundane weapons in the entire source material’s Weapon Table that could score enough damage to equal 1 physical stress box.  This on the high-end of the dice roll spectrum, though it doesn’t include magic or strength-related bonuses.
  • All the other mundane weapons then fall into one of 8 “less damaging” categories.
  • I believe DFRPG has a maximum Weapons rating of 4 before you get into dropping anvils on people, which means that the most damaging hand-held weapon in the world of DFRPG could translate to the equivalent of 30 to 40 hp of damage per shot.  (So Evil Hat wasn’t kidding when they said DFRPG combat is brutal and short!)

This poses some interesting design considerations for Spirit of Greyhawk…

It’s not the size of the weapon, it’s how you use it

Dealing with mundane weapons of the world of Greyhawk’s technology, this means Skills are the source of real damage when it comes to Melee combat, not the Weapon.  This appeals to me for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which that it supports the assumption that a skilled combatant with a dagger is far more dangerous than a non-skilled combatant with a two-handed sword.

(Not that other things can’t be a crucial factor, but that’s what aspects are for)

Taking this to a logical conclusion, would it make sense to have SoG fall into line with Spirit of the Century and just NOT consider a weapon damage bonus?  This is not to say weapons would be meaningless—the tactical advantages of picking the right weapon for the right engagement are still worthwhile.  But given the level of granularity that SoG uses to translate the world of Greyhawk, it’s still pretty reasonable.

If you believe that a player’s expectations for play in SoG tends to require that weapon selection DOES need to make some sort of difference in damage, then I think that Mike’s recent posting about different colored dice and damage is a valid way to go.

Impact of Magic on Melee

Anyone who has played AD&D knows that accumulating your magic weapons and armor becomes pretty critical, pretty quickly.  Which means that in SoG, enchanted gear would still be important, the real benefit to those enchantments is not “just” in the damage (remember, the actual damage of a +5 magic bonus is only half a stress box in SoG), but rather to allow someone to actually hit certain creatures who could not otherwise be damaged by mundane (or only minimally enchanted) weapons. 

So again, it’s the TACTICAL advantage granted by the weapon, and then it comes down to a player’s skill in using it.

…and I think that’s sort of interesting.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

[Greyhawk] NaGa DeMon = A Month of Late Nights

So, Nathan Russell has created NaGa DeMon (National Gaming Design Month) the gaming version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). 
Basically NaGa DeMon comes down to this:
  • Create the game in November
  • Finish the game in November
  • Play the game in November
  • Blab about the experience
A few things have lined up the right way for me, so I’m going to use this opportunity and get serious about taking Spirit of Greyhawk from a series of sporadic posts into an actual useable rule set.
Now, the definition of “finish the game in November” might need to be clarified somewhat for SoG—probably closer to "Blue Book Boxed Set” than the full PHB/DMG/MM.
Wish me luck and a light workload on the day-job!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Revisiting Damage

So a while ago -- almost two months ago -- Fred Hicks posted about his and Rob Donoghue's ideas on damage rolls in FATE. Lenny Balsera and Ryan Macklin chimed in in the comments with some interesting related ideas. Cool stuff all around.

A while back, in February of last year, I posted on the same topic, albeit from a different angle (in a post titled, appropriately enough, "Hey, Let's Overcomplicate Weapons!"). And now, prompted by Fred's post and long after the fact, I'm going to post about it again.

Part of Rob's idea involves using different-colored dice on the damage roll, with results (+, -, or 0) varying depending on each die's color. I dig that a lot, probably because, like a lot of people who own Fudge Dice, I own several colors' worth of Fudge Dice, and the prospect of making use of them -- beyond "Okay, the blue dice are mine" -- is attractive.

But I figure if I'm already going to be making use of different dice colors, there's no real reason to have a separate damage roll. Just take the 4dF I'm already rolling for my attack and swap in the right colors for the weapon I'm using. The total stress I deal is equal to the shifts I get on the attack roll, plus modifiers from those dice of mine.

Fred posits three degrees of weapons: Bruising (fists), Wounding (blunt weapons), and Killing (edged/stabbing weapons). Let's keep those distinctions. They're good distinctions, plus it's a group of three, and that's hard not to like.

If I'm attacking with a Bruising weapon, all of my dFs are White (WdF). Wounding weapons replace some or all of those White dice with Blue (BdF). Killing weapons replace some or all White or Blue dice with Red dice (RdF).

For example:

  • Fists: 4WdF
  • Brass Knuckles: 3WdF + 1BdF
  • Club: 2WdF + 2BdF
  • Knife: 2WdF + 1BdF + 1RdF
  • Sword: 1WdF + 1BdF + 2RdF
  • Pistol: 2BdF + 2RdF
  • Frickin' Big Explosion: 4RdF
Admittedly, this can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. An easier way to do it would be to replace WdFs with BdFs, then BdFs with RdFs. You're never rolling more than two colors of dice. But that's a refinement -- we're still just talking about the idea.

What do all of these colors mean?
  • White dice are just regular dice. They don't do anything special. FATE as we know it.
  • Each + rolled on a Blue die yields +1 stress.
  • Each + or 0 rolled on a Red die yields +1 stress.
You still have to hit with the attack, of course, and even hitting with a weapon that's rolling 4BdF or 4RdF isn't necessarily going to do any bonus stress. (Especially tough to pull off that trick with 4RdF, but theoretically possible.)

So I'm swingin' atcha with a sword and rolling 1WdF + 1BdF + 2RdF. I get 2 shifts on my roll. My Blue die is a zero, so no bonus there, but my Red dice come up 0 and +, so I'm doing another +2 stress on top of my shifts, for a total of 4 stress.

Seems to me like it'd work.

The corollary: Armor could work like this too, yes? If you're wearing armor, you replace some WdFs with BdFs or RdFs. You get the idea.

Monday, October 17, 2011

[Anglerre] Such A Deal!

Sorry for the radio silence lately -- real-life and all that -- but I wanted to post here to let people know about this great deal on Legends of Anglerre over at Loot! Over-half off. Not bad. But it ends at 11:30 pm EST tomorrow (the 18th), so if you're interested I advise you to get while the getting's good.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

[Greyhawk] Translating Spells into Fate

In an earlier post, I laid out three possible approaches to translating the source material’s spells into the Fate mechanic. I had also stated that SoG would be closer to the “faithful recreation” end of the spectrum with respect to translating spells.

Specifically, spell layouts and the general expectations of what spells did were to stay consistent, while the properties and the implementation of those magical effects were what was translated into Fate mechanics.

Rather than just throw out translated spells, I’d rather share SoG’s translation guidelines and “teach a man to fish.”

Translating Time and Distances

The source material looks at distances and time differently depending upon where the party is located (PHB, p. 102). SoG will apply only one standard, based on “city” or “dungeon” environments.

Both “Time” and “Distance” could be posts by themselves, so the information here is limited only to what is necessary to translating spells.

Translating Time

The source material’s most granular unit of time is 6 seconds (1 Segment) and SoG will consider that the equivalent of a single Fate “exchange” (or Full Action). While I think that 6 seconds to cover only a single combat exchange is a bit long, it’s not bad enough to warrant trying to make a more complicated translation.

There’s also a translation challenge associated with the Time Ladder—it’s story-centric. In other words, each rung of the ladder does not reflect the same amount of time. I’m not going to cover the entire Time Ladder in this post, but here are guidelines dealing with the lower end of the ladder, where each line is another “rung.”

Source Material Casting

SoG Time Ladder

“Actual” Time in Game


Action (not full action)

Maybe 3 seconds or less

1 Segment

Full Action (1 Exchange)

6 seconds

2 Segments

2 Exchanges

12 seconds

3 Segments to 1 round

3 Exchanges

18 seconds to 1 minute

1 round to 1 turn

Full Conflict

1 - 10 minutes

1 turn to 2 turns

Entire Scene

10 - 20 minutes

(The ladder goes further than this, but again this is enough for translation purposes.)

Translating Distance

Distance is used when considering both Area of Effect and Range.

Fred Hicks posted a great guideline about how to adapt Fate to 4e D&D maps (1 map square = 5 feet of game distance) that serves as the basis for SoG distance assumptions (which use older AD&D scales). SoG works with both zones and maps, but here’s the bottom line for purposes of SoG spell translation:

  • Most source material dungeon maps scale at 1 map square = 10 feet of game distance.
  • The source material expresses distance for spells (within a dungeon) as 1 inch = 10 feet of game distance.
  • 1 zone in SoG = 30 feet long & 30 feet wide, which is 3 map squares on each side.
  • When placing characters on a map (should your game choose to do that) the caster stands at the middle of a 3x3 square that represents the Fate “zone” currently occupied.

This means that melee attacks (range “Touch”) can only be executed on adjacent squares or a target occupying the same square as the caster.

SoG - ZoneExample02

Anything further than that requires either the caster to move or a Missile-type of attack. In other words, outside of the caster’s zone.

SoG - ZoneExample03

This means that in order for a spell to affect someone in the next zone, the spell must have a range of at least 2” (using the measure of distance as shown in the source material). In order to affect an entire zone of targets, the spell must have an Area of Effect of at least 3” square or radius (again, as shown in the source material).

Spell Components

Components in SoG represent requirements placed upon the spell caster in order to generate a spell’s effect. If one of those requirements cannot be met, the spell cannot be cast as Wizardry. Remember, trying to modify a formula on the fly turns the casting into sorcery.

Each category of component places a temporary aspect on the caster for the duration of the spell casting that could result in an additional difficulty.

These temporary aspects could be tagged by opponents seeking to attack the caster (while otherwise engaged) or to interrupt the spell. Relying on party members to provide blocks against such attempts would be important! It’s possible that they could even be compelled by the GM (see Material Components, below). Once the casting is completed, those aspects are no longer present.

As with other aspects, the frequency of compelling tends to be more according to dramatic opportunity rather than standard gaming procedure. For example, a GM would probably not compel a Wizard’s Material Component temporary aspect every time a spell is cast.

The source material states there are three categories of spell components, any or all of which could be required for the Wizard to cast a particular spell:

Verbal Components

The caster must speak certain magical words in order to cast the spell. SoG’s assumption is that the caster would likely have to speak at a normal tone or louder. This places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast.

Example: A party is trying to hide from sentries, and the Wizard casts a spell with a Verbal component. The GM can then tag that aspect to give the sentries a +2 to Alertness.

Somatic Components

The caster must use certain gestures or movements in order to cast the spell. SoG’s assumption is that freedom of movement for both hands is required. This places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast. Bear in mind that if the caster is forced to move during casting (for example, dives for cover), the Somatic Component is interrupted.

You could liken this to the experienced gunslinger stopping and standing still to reload his six-shooter, while an opponent's bullets are hitting all around him.

Example: A Wizard is being attacked while casting a spell with a Somatic component. For the duration of the casting the attacker could have access to the normal free tag of +2 to an attack, or pay Fate points after the free tag.

Material Components

The caster must expend certain magical reagents (Material Components) in order to cast the spell. The caster must be able to access these components during the casting, and this places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast.

Rather than worry about specific material components, consider the collective rarity of the material components relative to the situation.

Currently SoG only uses three categories:

  • Common materials are something that would be readily available to the Wizard under normal circumstances.
    • Examples: Dirt, grease, chalk
  • Rare materials require effort on the part of the Wizard to obtain or require some sort of processing to manufacture/distill/etc.
    • Examples: Crystal, sulfur, mercury
  • Very Rare materials reflect something beyond the ability of most Wizards to create for themselves, or require an extreme effort to obtain.
    • Examples: Hair from the target, a True Name, gems of 10,000 gp value

This also serves as a guide as to how often this aspect might be compelled:

Example: If a Wizard has the aspect of “Impoverished”, and is attempting to cast a spell with “Very Rare” components, the GM could compel the Impoverished aspect and essentially block the casting by declaring the Wizard does not have the resources available to have those components at the time (and credit the Wizard a Fate Point).

Rarity also helps to determine the impact to the spell difficulty if a casting is attempted without their use:

  • Common material components will give a -1 decrease to difficulty if not available.
  • Rare material components will give a -2 decrease to difficulty if not available.
  • Very Rare material components will give a -3 decrease to difficulty if not available.

It's possible material components could venture in to the "Unique" realm for a greater decrease, but I would consider these sorts of things as high level treasure, seeking them out as the focus of one or more adventures.

The GM is ultimate arbiter for determining the relative benefit / rarity of components, but this post I wrote about treasure might be of use.

Translating Positive Shifts

Many spells have a variable (damage, duration, etc.). The measure of this variable will be dependent upon the number of positive shifts generated from casting the spell. Some spells have no variables based upon the roll of the dice. In that event, any positive shifts during casting are discarded.

Translating Effects

Obviously this is something of a case-by-case basis, but the general effect translation process for SoG goes something like this:

  1. Translate the spell effect into “reality”. In other words, assume the spell exists in the World of Greyhawk, and try to get something resembling a real-world understanding of it.
  2. From there, translate it into the Fate mechanic, keeping in mind the typical 2 levels (or 2 HD) equal an extra +1 on the Fate ladder.

I have found this process helps to keep the “feel” of the spell right.

Spell Translation Examples

Spell “Tenser’s Floating Disc”

Source Material Original

Level: 1
Range: 2"
Duration: 3 turns + I turn/level
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: I segment
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: With this spell, the caster creates the circular plane of null-gravity known as Tenser's Floating Disc after the famed wizard of that appellation (whose ability to locate treasure and his greed to recover every copper found ore was well known). The disc is concave, 3' in diameter, and holds 1,000 g.p. weight per level of the magic-user casting the spell. The disc floats at approximately 3' above the ground at all times and remains level likewise. It maintains a constant interval of 6' between itself and the magic-user if unbidden. It will otherwise move within its range, as well as along with him at a rate of 6", at the command of the magic-user. If the spell caster moves beyond range, or if the spell duration expires, the floating disc winks out of existence and whatever it was supporting is precipitated to the surface beneath it. The material component of the spell is a drop of mercury.

SoG Translation

Skill: +1 Difficulty
Range: 20 feet (2 squares)
Duration: 30 mins + (20 mins * Skill level)
Area of Effect: See below
Components: V, S, M (Rare: drop of mercury)
Casting Time: Action (3 seconds or less)
Opposed by: n/a

Effect: Create a magical construct in the shape of a concave disc 3' in diameter that holds an amount of weight that can be expressed as either:

  1. 2,000 gp x Caster’s Skill Level
  2. 200 lbs x Caster’s Skill Level
  3. Might Skill of -1 (Poor) + (Caster’s Skill Level * 2)

All three represent the same weight, just expressed by 3 different standards.

It maintains a constant 6 foot distance (adjacent map square) to the caster unless otherwise stated by the caster's command, but the disc itself cannot push anything out of the way. It will remain at 3 feet off the ground, and stays level. If it is blocked from the caster and more than 20 feet (2 map squares) is put between them, the spell is broken.

If the spell is broken or expires, the disc construct dissipates and what ever was being carried by the disc falls as normal.

No positive shifts are considered for this spell, and unless in combat or otherwise challenged during casting, there is not a need to roll dice to cast this spell.

Example: Someone with a Wizard Skill +2, casts this spell and creates a floating disc that will last for 70 minutes (30 + (20 x 2)), and can carry 400 lbs (200 x 2) or has a Might of +3 (-1 + (2 x 2))

Example: Using Wizard Skill +7, this spell would create a floating disc that will last for 170 minutes (30 + (20 x 7)), and can carry 1,400 lbs (200 x 7) or has a Might of +13 (-1 + (7 x 2)). Or 14,000 gp, if there was a way to stack the gold pieces on the 3' diameter disc!

Design Notes:

  • One definition of weight (DMG, p.225) is that 10 gp = 1 pound. That means 1,000 gp = 100 lbs. The SotC Weight Factor table (SotC, p.258) reflects that a Might skill of "Poor" (-1) means being able to hold and move (slowly) with 100 lbs, which is the “base” capacity of the disc.
  • The variable in this spell is based upon the skill level of the Wizard, which then is used for both the "strength" of the spell's effect, as well as for the duration. Unless otherwise stated, when looking at a factor of "(something) per level" you don't just consider the Wizard's skill level, but rather the net result of the Wizard's skill level, the dice roll, and the impact of any aspects or other casting modifiers.
  • For this particular spell, any positive shifts during this casting are discarded. For game play purposes, unless someone was trying to interrupt the wizard this casting wouldn't require a dice roll.
  • Also remember that when dealing with a "per level" factor, every +1 of Wizard skill counts as two experience levels in the source material.

Spell “Magic Missile”

Source Material Original

Level: 1
Components: V, S
Range: 6" + 1"/level
Duration: Special
Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: One or more creatures in a 10 square foot area
Casting Time: 1 segment

Explanation/Description: Use of the magic missile spell creates one or more magical missiles which dart forth from the magic-user's fingertip and unerringly strike their target. Each missile does 2 to 5 hit points (d4+1) of damage. If the magic-user has multiple missile capability, he or she can have them strike a single target creature or several creatures, as desired.

For each level of experience of the magic-user, the range of his or her magic missile extends 1" beyond the 6" base range. For every 2 positive shifts levels of experience, the magic-user gains an additional missile, i.e. 2 at 3rd level, 3 at 5th level, 4 at 7th level, etc.

SoG Translation

Skill: +1 Difficulty
Range: 60 feet + 20 feet / skill level
Components: Verbal, Somatic
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: One or more creatures in a 10 foot square area (1 map square)
Casting Time: Action (3 seconds or less)
Opposed by: n/a

Effect: The spell creates a magical missile (with an additional missile for every two positive shifts generated by the caster--in other words you divide by two and round down) which dart forth from the caster's fingertips and unerringly strike their target with no chance for the target to dodge or defend. Mundane armor does not count for protection.

The caster can determine at will how many missiles will strike each target within the 10' area of effect.

Each individual missile counts as +1 physical stress. Because each missile counts as a separate attack, when multiple missiles are aimed at a single target, the cumulative “rollup” effect can be devastating.

Example: Trevare (Wizardry +5) is duelling against a sorceror. He casts Magic Missile in the hopes of getting in the first blow. The Wizard rolls 2dF+2 and gets +2 for a result of +6 (+5 skill + 2 shifts - 1 difficulty = +6). This creates 4 missiles (1 + (6/2) = 4) that streak toward the unfortunate rival.

Unable to dodge and having no other defenses already in place, the sorceror receives 4 separate missiles each of 1 stress, wiping out the first 4 physical stress boxes.

Example: The wizard Morgeaux (Wizardry +3) is beset by a group of 3 foul bugbears. An earlier fireball by Morgeaux has left many of them damaged, and she knows that even a simple spell might finish them off. Casting Magic Missile, she rolls 2dF+2 and gets a result of 1. This means she has generated (3 skill + 1 shifts - 1 difficulty) 3 positive shifts, for a total of two missiles (1 + (3/2)). Margeaux chooses to aim one missile at two of the three bugbears and deals one physical stress to each, leaving her to deal with a single remaining bugbear rushing her…

Design Notes

  • A single hit die is a D8, so technically each stress box counts as 2 hit dice. Which also means that the average hit points from 2HD would be about 9 or 10. Which would also place the average damage per missile at 4 points (3 + 1), which would then mean 2 missiles would be needed to do enough damage to take out 1 stress box. Rather than worry about the exact number of missiles in the description, I would rather just simplify to 1 missile equal 1 stress box.
  • Because the variability in the original spell (the dice roll) was about the damage and in translation the damage roll was too granular for Fate, the variability in the spell has now changed to be a modifier to the number of missiles. This was how the shifts-to-missiles formula was created.
  • I believe there needed to be a variable, given that this is a combat spell. The idea of a combat spell having no variable power of any kind seemed inappropriate.
  • This is a rare combat spell in that it has no opportunity for target to oppose the spell (no Dodge, etc). The casting could be interrupted, if someone has saved their action.
  • Later versions of this spell required line-of-sight to the target / targets, but this original listing did not. So the implication here is that the Wizard just has to “know” the target is there (around the corner, invisible, behind cover, etc). This might need review for game balance.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

[Kerberos] Conviction Aspects

(Crossposted on

When I think about the original Wild Talents version of The Kerberos Club, I tend to think of Benjamin Baugh's fantastic treatment of the setting. This is probably because it is, as I may have mentioned, fantastic. But over and above that, it's important to remember that Ben also introduced some cool new mechanics for WT, not the least of which is Convictions.

In WT, Convictions make a character's beliefs, goals, and the like mechanically significant. Every Conviction has a numerical rating. When you act in accordance with a Conviction, especially if doing so puts you at some sort of disadvantage, you earn Willpower equal to the Conviction's value. And if you defy a Conviction, even by accident, you lose a like amount of Willpower.

Any of this sound familiar, FATE fans?

So obviously, for the FATE conversion, Convictions had to be aspects. I mean, they were practically aspects to begin with. But they had to be "bigger" aspects than all the others, seeing as how they represent what's nearest and dearest to the character's heart. All Convictions are aspects, but not all aspects are Convictions.

Fortunately, an easy way to handle this is already implied in standard FATE rules, if not outright stated in some implementations. Compels on Conviction aspects start at two Fate Points instead of one. The aspect is a bigger deal for the character, so the incentive to go along with it is greater too. Likewise, refusing a compel on a Conviction aspect costs just as much. And the GM can escalate to three Fate Points from there, if it comes to that.

Needless to say, I'm a firm believer in making players pay for refusing compels. For me, if refusing doesn't come with a cost, the whole Fate Point economy suffers for it. Conviction aspects illustrate that perfectly. In the fiction, a character should follow his convictions more often than not. And when they don't, it should be a difficult decision. The beauty part of the whole pay-to-refuse thing is that the mechanics nicely reflect the fiction: The character doesn't want to violate her most firmly held beliefs, and the player doesn't want to part with two or three Fate Points if at all possible.

There are some differences between how WT's Convictions and FATE's Conviction aspects shake out in play. The most notable, though, and certainly the most emblematic of the differences between the two systems, may be one mentioned above. The fact that a Conviction can cost you Willpower if it's violated even by accident -- like if you have a Conviction against killing and then happen to roll, say, 7x10 on an attack -- is something that just doesn't happen in FATE. Something similar crops up when comparing the WT Unrest mechanic, which determines unfavorable public reaction to Strangeness with a dice roll, and Strange FATE's Collateral consequences, which does the same through a conscious choice on behalf of the players. But that's another topic for another time.