Thematic Music – Duel of The Fates

Friday, 30. July 2010

Duel of the Fates
John Williams
Star Wars Episode 1

This is probably the best thing to come out of the first star wars movie~

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Pondering Poison

Friday, 30. July 2010

Blackrazor has reminded me of how much I hate the old school rules of instant death for poison.  Yes, the attack damage is often more lethal than the poison particularly to lower level characters.  Still, something dosen’t quite sit right with it.  While there undoubtedly poisons out there that are lethal, even the ones we do consider “extremely lethal” often take their very sweet time to meet out the ultimate results in death.  A few examples below.

Coral Snake- Delay of several hours before the venom takes effect, but the results are potentially neur0muscular paralysis, death occurring when the lungs fail. This may get more hazardous because it is apparently no longer profitable to produce anti venom through the FDA licensing process. Awesome.

Black Widow – Cramping, Abdominal pain, Perspiration, Nausea, etc. Death is rare.

Sea Wasp - This one does kill them as quickly as possible, just to prevent it from tearing up the jellyfish. Death occurs within 4 minutes, assuming you get it badly enough. Excruciating pain, and shock/drowning occurring as well.

King Cobra - Large amounts of toxic venom injected, typically death occurs within 30-45 minutes. Lethality rate on this one is actually pretty high 33-66% depending on treatment.
Read more

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Flat critical failure percentages

Thursday, 29. July 2010

One of the things that I’ve always hated in various d20 and d100 based systems is their method of critical failures.  No matter how skilled or unskilled a character is the chance of failure is always flat.  Be it 5% in a D20 system, or a varying 2-5% in a D100 system.

Most of us have tasks, jobs and skills that we are very proficient at either from hobbies or from work.  I happen to do a fair amount of technical work on equipment.  If I had anywhere near a 5% failure rate even under stress, people would be dead and I would be fired in a heartbeat. It’s probably well under 1% with actual failure rates perhaps slightly higher, but still underneath it. I’m sure everyone agrees a good amount of their work is similar, with a very low rate as well.

Now, very delicate work in hostile conditions? Probably higher depending on interruptions and the tools the character in question has to work with.  Higher still if they’re under attack or under a time limit (Bomb ticking away perhaps?) Character dosen’t care?  Higher, so on and so forth.

You can get this to a point by adjusting failure %’s flat out.  You are of course, limited to your die’s resolution… 5% increments for a d20, 1% for d100…  Even doing that however, it still leaves that annoying flat failure percentage.  No matter the skill of the character in question, the chance of critically screwing up remains the same.

The simplest solution that I can work with is to start using small dice pools.  I say small because I really don’t play games to roll dice.  If I did that I’d just play Yatzee or maybe craps.    For instance in the case of the d20.. have another die in there for a failure die. Your failure die can be tuned to whatever you feel the % needs to be.

Crit Failure on     Crit Failure
1 no fail die            5%
1, fail die 1-10       2.5%
1, fail die 1-5          1.25%

Another (more preferred option, in my case) is to use something similar to what heavy gear uses. Your skill levels determine the dice you throw, and the highest is kept. If all come up 1′s, crit failure. Standard dice used is d2, and throwing 2 of them is considered average. 3 is professional, etc. In addition to dropping the fail rate, it also consistently moves the average roll up making trivial and nontrivial tasks easier. I realize its still a set % get a certain number, but it still feels less “chancy” then relying on one die for some reason.

Mind you with the tables below that any skill above 3 is incredibly rare
Dice    Thrown Crit Fail %   

1          16.7%                            
2          2.77%                          
3          0.46%
4          0.07%
5          0.012%

The system tends to use compared rolls, so crit failures even in combat aren’t necessarily lethal.  In addition, the system allows you to burn small amount of experience to save your character in a bind, in case there is a critical failure.  All in all, very well laid out and it feels fairer for players involved to be cheated less by dice.

Thoughts on the matter?

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Fundamental Swordsmanship

Wednesday, 28. July 2010

While Hollywood duels are dramatic it would take forever and a day to wage wars were that actually the case.  True sword fights are brutally quick and efficient in the case of skilled combatants.  It takes about 2 seconds to win (Good), lose (bad) or draw (still bad.) on an aggressive engagement.   The weapon is effecient even in the hands of the unskilled: all one needs to know is how to swing, and that the pointy end goes into the other guy.   That said, there are a number of qualities that make good swordsman:  they must have the proper mentality, they must have the proper strategy and tactics involved and they must have proper mechanical weapon knowledge.

The swordsman must be alert and confident without exhibiting hubris.   They must be deadly serious while still being able to remain relaxed.  I list these qualities first as they are universal and apply to all combative situations.  With a proper attitude fights can be avoided altogether and the ones that start may be in your favor.  Avoiding bloodshed is the ideal solution. If a fight does start the opponent can be persuaded before blades actually clash that this isn’t in their best interest through a difference in skill or in a worst case scenario the enemy can be unsettled.  The psychological high ground is useful in buying openings and time.

The swordsman must be familiar with the weapons in question and their handling.  Blades are just as dangerous to the user and friends as their opponent.  It is only through training that this is mitigated so that they may remain safe from damaging themselves.   The swordsman must be familiar with the cutting and thrusting mechanics of their weapon as well as the weapons reach.   Although all swords function in a similar fashion, there are differences in how the weapons behave when parried, as well as striking and entering the body.  Poor technique can result in ineffective attacks, damage to the weapon or having it physically stuck in the opponent at an unfortunate time.  The latter can be fatal to the wielder if more than 1 hostile combatant is involved.

The ultimate tactics involved in a sword fight are timing and distancing.  With equal weapons involved the defender needs to be where the attackers blade isn’t while still remaining in range to deliver and effective counter.  In the case of unequal weapons the swordsman needs to be able to capitalize on their strengths while minimizing the weakness.  Likewise, they need to be able to exploit the opponents vulnerabilities while negating their strengths. Parries should carry with them a similar distancing component, done properly they allow you to attack immediately after or ideally while defending.

With these the swordsman retains the integrity and respect of the weapon while maximizing their effectiveness.  Technique is simple and with training ingrained into muscle memory. This ultimately required in engagements that end lethally just as quickly as they begin.

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Villainous Hierarchy

Tuesday, 27. July 2010

Players face many foes within a standard game.  One of the most standard is varying villainous organizations, which have varying sizes but typically have similar structures as they get progressively larger.   In this particular issue, we’ll examine the standard base organizations and look at their possible associations later.  With that in mind, here is a birds eye view.

The standard organization is very similar to the military and paramilitary.  There are generals, tiers of commanders and soldiers.  Typically the titles will vary, but it generally works out to boss or masterminds and associated high level assistant and associates.  After that, there is a tier or tiers of lieutenants, and finally henchmen.   Typically masterminds have little contact with player characters, they may or may not be know depending on what the organization is (And of course, the villains wishes.)  Lieutenants are encountered somewhat more frequently, and hopefully only in larger organizational operations.  Henchmen are what the players are mostly likely to encounter on a regular basis, as they are the arm of the organization when it comes to getting things done.  Often they’ll have a lesser leader in charge of them on more important jobs.

Cellular organizations are quite different.  These are more likely to exist in the face of overwhelming opposition, as they are far less connected and therefore have less information on the organization for enterprising heroes, corporations or governments to crush.  Rather than operating from a central point, smaller cells often of 3-10 people are given goals and allowed or encouraged to accomplish them on their own.  There is often a leader within the cell and communications between cells are kept to a minimum and discrete is possible.  The organizations leader exists more in the form of guidance and encouragement for the groups operations rather than a direct commander.

The organizations goons of course don’t work for free, there has to be some motivation for their employment.  The most obvious, common and uninspired reason is money.  Going beyond that however is the acquisition of power, prestige or both.  There are of course negative ways of employment.  These are threats, coercion and blackmail.  A character in such position is often far more desperate and therefore dangerous than one that is getting comfortably paid.  These means are useful for the organizations to recruit unwilling assistance, such as player characters.

The villainous organization will have a goal in mind.   This is determined by their leader; although bear in mind however that not everyone desires to rule the world.  Having an iron fist on the immediate surroundings, revenge, lots of respect or lots of money is good enough reason for many.  This can of course change with time, but is something good to start with that can also grow as player characters do. (Or shrink depending on their effectiveness…)

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The Malignant Creep of Weak Male Characters

Saturday, 24. July 2010

Greg at SynapseRPG brings up an interesting discussion from a number of years ago at Overthinking It as to why strong female characters are bad for women. I’d like to extend the discussion the opposite direction however, the modern trend to make male characters extremely weak.  It’s somewhat interesting that this just tied in the other day to a Sylvester Stallone comment in the LA Times about the fall and decline of the action hero; Something he credits to “Velcro muscles” for making male stars disposable.

I’m not particularly talking about “physically powerful” characters although that seems to be on the decline as well as Stallone commented.  Warriors throughout the ages were physically powerful without being huge as we might thing of a modern body builder.  The additional mass and loss of flexability was a hindrance past a certain point.   They needed power, endurance and speed, with strength coming in lets say 4th.

What I’m talking about in terms of weakness is to portray men more and more as bumbling fools.  Major characters are Homer Simpson and Peter Griffonesque.  They succeed because of lucky circumstances, not through any sort of clever or thought out action.  If by chance they happen to be reasonably intelligent, then they fall to one of the obvious old maxims.   They’re greedy, sexist, womanizing, stupid, lazy or in some cases just flat out psychotic.

I’m not suggesting that male characters don’t have to have weaknesses, simply that they cannot for the sake of good fiction (or society for that matter.) continue to fall upon the same sword over and over.  Give them strengths and weaknesses, as well as virtues and vices.  These are things to work around and overcome, not continue to use the same crutch over and over.

This is setting a horrible example as any sort of role models.  I think it’s as off putting to new players as anything for having assumed characteristics through modern media.  Who wants to save the country when the king and every guy in it are bumbling idiots. (Yeah, we’d conquer it, geez Grey.)  People need something to look up to and strong male figures regardless of their vices are required.  Trouble is there because there is real trouble, and not because idiocy caused it.  Thinking, planning, overcoming or working around weaknesses or perceived weaknesses are the way to victory.

I think a good fresh approach as well as a paradigm shift in the way people are modernly played will be a good draw to new or formerly disinterested players in general. Does anyone else see it this way?

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Thematic Music – Clubbed to Death

Friday, 23. July 2010

Clubbed To Death
Rob Dougan
The Matrix Soundtrack

Fantastic soundtrack from the Matrix, playing well into and sort of tech or modern environment.

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Environment as Opposition

Friday, 23. July 2010

Typically when gaming there are 3 types of opposition that are rather commonly encountered. The first and most generic type is random hostile opponents that want something from the characters; typically money, murder or a combination of the both of them. The second type is plot line villains. These for whatever reason have grudges against the players and will go long ways to see them suffer and defeated they may or may not be working as background elements although they tend to last longer as the latter. Finally there is the simple antagonists. These fellows aren’t really villains per say but have differing objectives or want the players objective first in the case of say, theft. 

The fourth which is used far less commonly is the environment itself.   If anything the typical approach is to use a wide variety of traps to slow characters down while they’re trying to accomplish their goal.  This is rather limiting in itself however, as the entire area around the characters may be hostile or lethal within a short order.  This allows potentially weaker threats to be very dangerous by proper application.

For instance; setting fire to a building is a simple action nearly anyone can do.  In most cases flames are quite dangerous to normal characters (or if not, it’s not too difficult to find something that is.) and their goal will be to evacuate.  This could be potentially simple or in the case of a larger building quite hazardous.  In addition to smoke inhalation and heat slowing them down, they’ll be facing limited to no visibility as well as an unstable structure that could potentially (read that as will) collapse if they’re not quick about moving. The entire hazardous environment should be well played with lots of tension and make it something the players definitely do not want a repeat experience of.

The burning building is a fine example but can be easily expanded to any number of hazardous locales.  Swamps and marshes with their soft bottoms work well, as do freezing, electrified, poisoned, low oxygen environments and so forth. These are rather simple to work with as they are clearly dangerous.  The idea is to make it dangerous enough to add significant pressure on its own, without needing additional hostile enemies.

Even areas that aren’t immediately hazardous can be dangerous to the ill prepared.  Any sort of long distance travel through the wilderness can be a trek.  Food is not as easily gathered as it is typically imagined.  Lack of water can kill in a period of days, and while some areas are flooded with it, some are very rare.  Loss of supplies is a good way of adding pressure without attacking the characters directly.

When was the last time, and/or how have you used similar situations?

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Favorite CRPG’s

Wednesday, 21. July 2010

It’s interesting to take a look at the evolution of CRPG’s along with how computers moved along in processing power. Obviously, the graphics and sounds of games have gotten considerably better and the storyline and world expanded in a lot of cases. In many others however, the story and plot lagged horribly and or was never developed. Because of this interestingly enough, some of the best games are also the oldest… That is of course what happens when you base your games on good game play and story. I’ll take a look at 5 today, most of which are fairly old school.

Dragon Warrior – Ah, the venerable dragon warrior series. The original game was fairly straightforward, with still having a fair number of nooks and crannies to look into and of course get in trouble with. You can look at this game, and the newer incarnations and say “Wow, not much has really changed.” The game play keeps getting more options as well as more and more graphically polished, but the core mechanics remain.

Final Fantasy – Another oldie of the NES generation. This was a substantial step up from Dragon warrior in terms of nearly everything. Graphics, party options, places to explore as well as being a much longer game in general. Unfortunately for the later games, there is a few things that didn’t exactly survive later into the series. The primary of which is this games ability to explore. (Although, you’ll pay if you get into a place you shouldn’t be with a vicious beating.)

Phantasy Star – From the old sega master system. Most people probably didn’t get into this series at all until the genesis came out due to the limited sales of the sega vs the NES. PS was a good game for the time although wasn’t quite as polished as a lot of its NES competitors. It set a good stage for its sequels which got considerably better.

Skies of Arcadia – Another sega game, this time tied to the ill fated dreamcast. The DC was an excellent system, although that’s another article in itself. Skies had a very niche at the time sky pirates setting coupled with another large fantasy-esque world to explore in. Character progression was mostly linear with a few good tweaks for skills. Sadly there wasn’t much in the way of the optional dungeons, but the storyline and game play of this is excellent.

Deus Ex – Off to PC land. While not a typical pen and paper style game DE combined all of the elements of RP into an amazing FPS game that I have seldom seen rivaled. One of the most amazing things was probably how they tied fiction and conspiracy together into an amazing plot and story. This one is really a must play. Sadly I can’t say the same for it’s sequel, which is rubbish.

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Thoughts on experience systems

Monday, 19. July 2010

With practically any structured rpg there is going to be some sort of experience system. The experience system is going to define character growth; what the character gets better at and how much better. The system defines so much more than that however and should be built around the storytellers and players desired style of gaming.  If the storyteller wants the players to act more or in a certain fashion, they need to be rewarded for such and encouraged to do so.

The old traditional games based their experience around recovering treasure and some on thrashing monsters. The more loot recovered the better and the bigger and badder monsters thrashed the better, assuming one could escape with their hide intact. The impact on the play style of course, is that this was the main thing that mattered: scoring gold and thrashing villains. This is fabulous if a pure combat based game is being run, but several wanted something.. more.  Thus the systems evolved.

More modern systems have their experience basis on the above, but also include other factors.  Experience is given for good role playing, acting in character, completeting quest objectives, completing story arcs, surviving, good ideas, attendance and the list goes on.  In short, character actions are included and have a significant role in how players and their character gain experience.  It shifts the experience from a pure hunt to something more acting based.

Other games have more esoteric styles.  Supposed the desired objective of a game is double crossing, experience in given for such event setup.  Or perhaps alliance building or character romances.  Maybe the solving puzzles has a large factor.  The weighting of experience is going to determine the amount of effort put into each task.

How these are weighted and handled are setup on a baseline by the system being played for how the publishers want a game to “feel” and what demographic they’re trying to appeal to.   It is further tweaked by the storyteller to reflect the style of play they want.  Ideally a major focus (or 2) are chosen and the other factors weigh into a lesser fraction.  Depending on how much is chosen this can be a large task within itself, so its recommend making the players do some of the work.  Just a quick note on actions will do, it will also help direct the style of play in the desired direction.

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