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Friday, September 8, 2017

The Anatomy of, AAIE magic.

Small AAIE Update:
On Saturday Morning I'm running a game off AAIE at "Gaming in the  woods" a new Con just starting up this year in Poughkeepsie NY. I guess this isn't  playtesting anymore, now we're just playing. Editing and such continues. I still haven't done anymore art for the game, so ... that's on me.

Also One of the games I wrote back in 2006, which was played quite often between then and 2014 (when fifth ED dropped and we all decided to try it) Can now be downloaded on Drive through RPG for Free.
It's Called Phase Abandon. The  document was edited and Laid out by the multi talented Jens D. From the Disoriented Ranger Blog. The Drive through RPG was set up by the equally talented Neal T. who deserves all the credit for getting this stuff out there.
Quick note about Phase abandon: It's very much a "Narrative style" game. While I hate those labels because of the arguments they cause, I had to point out the Phase Abandon is very much unlike AAIE or D&D.

Yet another in my now growing "Anatomy of" series. This series deals with  various design aspects from my game "Amazing Adventures and Incredible Exploits." The articles below are written to provide clarity concerning the  AAIE game specifically how the  moving parts of that game are meant to  work together.

The series includes:
The Anatomy of Weapons.
AAIE "The town"
The anatomy of Balance.
The Anatomy of a Perk.
The Anatomy of an Ability
The Anatomy of AAIE Magic


The Anatomy of AAIE magic:
This is may not be my longest post, but its still a doozy.
First of all I think I need to start with a bit of background. (start building the  pyre while getting the tar and feathers all warm and ready.) I hate, have always hated D&D Magic. The whole Vancian magic concept has never conceptually made much of sense to me. Worse yet it has never  "excited" my imagination. It has never felt like magic to me. Not the magic I had seen in movies, not the Magic I had read about in  books. (Outside of Jack Vance but .. yeah .. ) Want proof? Ask the people I game with  how many spell casters I have ever played? Not many.
I did a bit of thinking on the subject when I wrote AAIE. The idea that magic users forget their memorized spells when they are cast, the root of the  whole Vancian thing, never bothered me. The  idea of having a limited number of spells, or the need to study each day were also not that offending. When I got down to it, the lists of spells is what has always put me off. Here are my gripes. Primarily I never want to hear "let me look up that spell" again. I am not a fan of that. D&D went a good distance by printing spell cards for each class. As handy as spell cards are WoTC has enough of my money already. I'm not going to ask the players in the game I run to buy them. A pile of index cards works well enough. Prepared players help a great deal to mitigate this gripe. The  people I game with always  have the pages their spells are located on written on their spell lists. Those things are great, but it still takes the player out of the game into reference mode every time they want to cast.*

My second gripe is the lack of creativity involved in predefined spells. The system is supposed to represent magic.  Having each spell predefined by a stat block reminds me more of doing math  than indulging in the dark arts. Sure I have spent time  tying to find creative uses for spells like "rope trick," or "Illusionary Terrain." ** Milking as much use as possible out of the spells, while fun as a pursuit, has never felt magical or creative to me.

With all this in mind I took a cue from some of the older editions of Ars Magica in attempting to create a more interpretive Magical system.
AAIE uses what are termed "keywords" along with "casting styles" to facilitate magic.
A new spell caster knows a number of keywords equal to his or her Academics score.  These words are the building blocks of their spells. A player may use a number of keywords equal to their level +1.
For example if a wizards keywords are, Rune, Thundering , light, and Weapon. That caster at level 1 could cast a spell called. "Thundering Rune" , simply "thundering", "Light Rune" or any other combination. Each keyword used in the spell makes the  spell more difficult while adding to the  spell's effects.
It is up to the player to describe the  desired effect then for the GM to arbitrate if the effect is in bounds.

Using our example above "Thundering Rune" could be a mark made on a door way that  causes a great noise when the door is opened. The key word "Light" could be cast in a myriad of ways. Light the noun as in illumination, light as in the  adjective  "off little weight", light the verb as in light the candle.
At first level the  player could cast "Light Weapon" which could mean a weapon that spreads illumination, causing a weapon to go aflame, a weapon made of light or a large weapon the  player just made weigh less...

How hard a spell is to cast is determined by  the characters Casting style. A casting style are the wizards equivalent of the abilities given to the other classes. A wizard starts with one style he or she may pick up others as they level up.
Spells are categorized at the time they are cast by the GM  as either Offensive, Defensive, Summoning, or Utility. Each casting style has base difficulties along with benefits or drawbacks depending on the category of spell cast.

Lastly each key word used in a spell increases the  base difficulty by one. Our example spell above "Light Weapon" would incur a +2 difficulty to cast. This being AAIE the GM adds that in before taking the characters relevant attribute into account to determine the final difficulty . In effect it's math the player never has to see.

Here is an example  Spell casting Style (or ability if you like)

Offensive Caster.
(You have put it into your mind that magic is to be used for the sole purpose of destruction and death. You are not much fun at parties.)
Attribute: Academics 
This is the character's attribute that will lower the casting difficulties.
Difficulty Offense Vs armor of target - casters academics
When casting  offensive spells the  caster may use their academics score to lower the difficulty.
Difficulty Summoning: Vs 12 + modifiers
Difficulty Defense: Vs 12 + modifiers
Difficulty of Utility: Vs 12 + modifiers
The other spell categories don't get the academics modifier because this is the offensive casting style.
Costs: Myst and focus by spell +
You may add more Myst to any spell to add damage. 1 point for 1 point.
Every spell costs d6 myst and d6 Focus, +1 per keyword used to cast, offensive casters may choose to spend more if they wish to do more damage.
Common: You do normal damage + (see above)
This is the result of a normal success (the result of a successful casting with a non-exceptional roll on the  effect die.)
Perk 1: Stun opponent
Perk 2: knock down.
Perk 3: Push
Critical: X 2 damage.
If the  roll is successful and the  effect die is high  these are the perks the  player may add to their spell. Base effects are also  determined by the number of keywords used. Each key word used adds a D6 to the effects.
Fumble: Use spell fumble table
IF the roll is a failure along with an effect die result of  1, there is a pretty solid chance the  player will blow themselves up ...

Going back to our "Light Sword" spell example.
If it were cast using the  Offensive caster ability above, with the player electing to create a, "Sword made out of  the purest light in their hand!"

  • It's a second level spell. It uses two key words "Sword and Light"
  •  I would love to say this is an offensive spell to match the characters casting style but actually it's not. It's a summoning spell as the  player is  summoning a sword of light to their hand. 
  • The difficulty would be 12 (+2 because it is a spell using 2 keywords)  For a total of  14.
  • It will cost the caster 1d6+2 Myst and Focus. ( I usually ask players to roll those costs individually but it's not a rule.)
  • Assuming the  roll is a success as a GM I would ask the player to describe what the Light sword looks like.  After all it's that wizards light sword, not necessarily like anyone else's
  • The  sword will do 2d6 damage. (2 key words.)
  • The  sword will last 2d6 turns or until dispelled, or another spell is cast. (again 2 keywords.)
  • If I were running the game I would say the  sword casts a glow like a torch, not more because the player never stated they wanted it as a source of illumination but simply as a sword. 
  • I would give it a bonus of 1d6 damage vs undead. Given that the  player said it was made of "the purest light" I just think that would be cool.
  • A smart player would write down the  bonuses I gave to the light sword then ask for them again next time they cast it. A wise player would write down the bonuses I gave to the light sword then mention them the next time they cast the spell then say, "But if you think something else works better..."


Does this seem like much of the  magic system is dropped in the GM's lap for case by case arbitration? Yes.
In my opinion the one great balancing and arbitrating  system most games have in common is the game master. Trying to build a "magic system" that will catch  all of the ideas a player may come up with is neigh impossible. With That in mind I  decided that any free form magic system will have to lean on the GM more heavily than a system where the spells are pre-written. ***  I find arbitrating the magic to be fun. I'm constantly surprised by the ideas players come up with. Equally exciting are  the  ways in which they use keywords to adapt to situations. It's creative, allows the players to stretch out within the game world to work the system a bit. Finally AAIE magic doesn't require those lists of spells for everyone to memorize. It can also be a bit silly at times, after all that's to be expected in AAIE.

In a nutshell that's the basics of AAIE Magic.

Wild and  strange no doubt. I have found it to be the hardest part of the game for new players to  get used to. They usually end up liking it, but it has an adjustment period that the other classes just don't have.

Thank you for reading, and have a great one!
-Mark.






*Unless the group is playing 5th edition which has offensive "cantrips" for each casting class which  everyone has memorized word for word...and are honestly repulsive to me.
** One of the most underrated spells in the  D&D  canon of spells. In my humble opinion.
*** Not that D&D style spells don't require a substantial amount of DM arbitration  now and again.

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Quick Look at Starfinder by Paizo

I think I am obligated to say:

I'm not affiliated with Paizo in any way.
No"review" materials were provided by Paizo prior to this writing. 
Here is ae link to the official Paizo information about the Starfinder game.
I bought the book from Amazon.
I get nothing from your clicking on the links contained in this blog.

I am quite obviously not a professional reviewer, all opinions in this piece are just that..My personal opinions.

I think that covers my rear-end sufficiently.

OK. I have to be a straight shooter here. There is no way to do a "Quick Look"  at a 521 page book.
My apologies.

So here is the TLDR version:
Very good production values. Surprising value for price. A system the group I game with will relate to. A Pazio game I can get in on the ground floor of. Good value for the money. Does Sci-fantasy "shoot-shoot" as well as Pathfinder does Fantasy "stab stab"...


I took the time to hack together that preamble because I know Starfinder has been a hot property since it's release. With that thought in mind I'm safe to assume some people are going to have strong opinions about it. If there's one thing I have learned from reading RPG material on the internet it's that for every popular new product there will be people rushing to enthusiastically shoot it down, with an equal number of people rushing to defend it. I wanted to be clear that I'm not here to do either. My intention is to write a bit about how I see the  new game and how I think I can make use of it. Hopefully that will be at best useful or at least interesting to someone out there.

So let's get to it:
I'm going to do this backwards. I'm going to write about my thoughts on how I relate to Starfinder the  game before I break down the physical object.

A bit of history.
My first D&D was "red Box, then  2nd edition, then  rules cyclopedia in that order. However for several of the players for whom I run games 3rd edition is where D&D started. As a group, we played 3rd edition before we ever started playing Phase abandon. (Phase abandon  is a game we home brewed then spent many years using almost exclusively once 4th edition came around.)
By the time we knew about Paizo producing Pathfinder, we were still playing Phase or off trying other  flavors of RPG. (Hell for Leather, Dungeon World, Retro Clones, even AD&D second edition.) Furthermore by the time Pathfinder hit our radar in any big way, Paizo had already  printed several years worth of books, the game had already gotten quite large. I never lost the  feeling  however that a good number of people in our group must think of 3rd edition D&D the way I think of  Red Box D&D. The comfy old shoes, the one that started it all for them. If I had only snagged Pathfinder when it first came out we probably would have played it quite a bit.

Recently I have been thinking about starting to run a new game. My old D&D campaign has kind of hit the skids again. Meanwhile as a GM/DM I have run an awful lot of fantasy games over the years, it has lead me to want to run something different.
I started thinking about  science fiction. That begged the question, "If I run Science fiction though what kind of science fiction would I run?"

Mind the reader: while I am not the best read when it comes to fantasy fiction, I have read even less sci-fi over the years. So working on a "hard Science" fiction game is a stretch for me. Games like traveler might not be the best fit. Running a game in an established fandom, like Star wars, Star Trek or Fire Fly would get me into trouble considering how shallow my knowledge of those properties is.
Finally I have been reticent about picking up a system where the players would have to learn a lot of new concepts. We are all adults each with a number of things taking up our time, I'm not sure anyone in our group has the desire to learn a whole new game.

What all this leads up to is the bell which went off in my head when I saw Starfinder.

I knew that Pathfinder was the  inheritor of D&D's 3rd edition genes. I also knew it had grown into a very complicated series of books fostering a reputation for complex character min maxing which had scared me away from the system.

In star finder I would have a sci-fi game with the genes of 3rd edition, which as of now only has a core book to worry about. I know the Starfinder game will expand in the future, but I don't need to expand with it. I am of the feeling that the very few role playing games have gotten better when a ton of splat books and rules expansions have been layered on. It's similar to how several years worth of  barnacles add drag to a perfectly good ship. I can take this game and run the core rules without the burden of a decades worth of splat books to avoid, ignore, or disallow. It's what I would have done with Pathfinder had I gotten in on the ground floor.

Those D&D 3rd edition bones are obvious enough in the system that I can easily sit down with our group and say, "Your firing your gun? OK. Roll D20 Add Base attack modifier, Dexterity bonus, and subtract any range penalties, if  the result is over the targets armorer class, you hit."

They (the players) will intrinsically know what I mean even if the packaging is a bit different. Meanwhile those same 3rd ed bones are wrapped in enough  sci-fantasy, bubble-fluff that the experience will feel fresh and new.

Ok so that's my view of  how it relates to the  group I  game with . Now here's a bit about the  book itself.

The book, US Quarter shown for scale.


The physical thing:
The  book is Hardcover, and 521 pages (plus a few adds for upcoming products and character sheets in the rearmost of the book)

The  spine seems solid, and opes up flat quite easily. I don't know how the book will hold up to use though I'm pretty easy on my game books so I might not be the best judge. Only time will tell.
By caparison my Cypher System Core book is 410 pages and has a similar binding but that book does not open as flat.

I have  leafed through the book a few times, read all of character creation and much of  personal combat and have not noticed any printing mistakes or issues so far. I have certainly not seen anything as serious as the  "smeary" ink that many people I know experienced with their D&D 5th edition books.

The pages are a nice weight, perhaps not as heavy as the ones in the aforementioned cypher system book, but close. Each page is a nice semi gloss, and flip easily (no stuck pages.) The  front and back covers are a heavy high gloss that a player would have to really try to dent or ding.
Overall this book is exactly what you would expect out of a flagship book, for a big product, by a successful company like Pazio. They have the resources to  put this kind of book out and it's obvious in the  quality of the physical production that Pazio was willing to use those resources on this core book.

Value:
I paid $49.95 USDs for the book on Amazon. I can say with confidence that it's worth the price as an object, as I said above, the production is top notch.

Editing:
I have not noticed any editing mistakes, however I'm the wrong guy to look for them... I mean you read this blog, you know the  score.

The  Art:
The credits list no less than 34 individual artist who worked on this book in one capacity or another. Each page is full color and there is an art plate of some kind at least every third page, sometimes more often. The art runs from good to very good in quality. Most of the pieces have that "digital painting" look that  has come to be used pretty much every where. While I have nothing against that style, (and it's all better than I can do.) I do think the style lends a samey look to many recent products all crossed the industry.
I particularly like the  double sided plate on pages 11 and 12, an evocative look off a star-ship's bridge. Page 52 a cool racial portrait to the  lizard race "Vesk." Page 363 a character portrait with a great deal of motion and energy. Lastly page 437 an almost impressionist style cityscape that communicates a good sense of colossal scale even in a small third page plate.

Organisation:
The book is well organised. Fully indexed, and with a solid reference section in the rear of the book. There is enough  in text cross referencing that a person can flip back and forth to find the clarity they need when  hitting a new term or concept. Lastly  there are red tabs along the outer edge of each page which are clearly visible along the side of the book, this is a nice touch. I know it's common at this point but I like to be able to see where one section begins and the other ends before I open the book. It saves on  extra flipping. Once I use the book more often I will get to know which section is which without looking first, making the whole thing easier to navigate.
The layout of the book is crisp. As I stated before art is spread liberally throughout the book but never seems obtrusive. The  designers were smart about where they dropped the  pictures as to not interrupt individual sections of text covering one topic.

 The text is in an easy to read font. It is obvious indicators as to where individual topics begin or end. (should go without saying but some  RPG books don't get that right.)

After some introductory "stuff" it starts right off with character generation. Most of the setting fluff is saved for the  end of the book  which is how I like it. There is a large section dedicated to starships and combat among starships. To be totally honest I haven't read that section yet. It looks good. It looks D20-ish with tons of modifiers on top of  specific combat situations. Which is to be expected.

I think the best way to describe the layout and organization is, "everything you would expect from a professional product by one of the biggest companies in the business."

Content:

{Statement of the  obvious} Again For those wondering, this isn't a Hard Science Fiction game.
The label I have seen used most often for the game's flavor is "Sci-Fantasy." It's more Mobius than Rocket manual. Having read what I have read of the book I agree with this  choice in aesthetic. It feels like the worlds of D&D have grown old only to become this. It's not all super technology. There are character classes straight up casting spells. For those of us who cut our teeth on D&D some of the spells are very familiar. One class the "technomancer" cleverly blends technology and magic by  utilizing a suite of spells which  focus on the manipulation or bolstering of tech. It's that kind of genre blending which permeates the  book. I like the sci-fantasy flavor, I like it alot. I find it  flexible as well as evocative. It give me as a GM enough of an umbrella that I could fit most of my stupid, crazy sci-fi ideas underneath. I could see someone wanting a more Paizo does Traveler experience being disappointed.

The core book offers up: 
7 races.
6 classes.
Character Themes, which can (I would call them optional) further differentiate between characters of the same class
20 or so pages of skills
15 pages of  Feats.
66 Pages of equipment.
12 pages of spell lists.
(By pages I mean the  typical Paizo Multiple column not exactly huge, ok I'm old I need to squint now font .. style pages.)

There is plenty here to last a GM like me ( Read: I don't get to play all that often anymore ) for a very long time.

What?
There are no monsters in this book. there is one example monster, shown to explain how a stat block works. There is a monster manual of sorts coming  along, for an additional $35 dollars.
I would have preferred they skip some of the  fluff portions of the book and dropped in 10 pages of usable monsters. It will not stop me from running the game, but I don't like that choice. (feels like a money grab. As in "Now the  GM's have to buy the monster book!" I don't. I probably never will. Unless I run a ton of this game and  at this point that seems unlikely.)

As stated above being a Pazio D20 production there are pages upon pages of  spells along with equipment making up the bulk of the book. With a new game I like that sort of thing. Perhaps because it is a new system seeing  a bunch of pages of  weapons all well illustrated as well as described was easy to look though if not particularly inspiring.

I haven't read all of the spells (some of them are straight up D&D spells,) the descriptions are generally short, as well as to the  point. All of the information needed for play is in each description, which is helpful. The shorter spell descriptions at least leave some wiggle room for game master interpretation based on the in game situation at hand.

A word on rules interpretations:
I'm sure  the Paizo forums will be filled with  questions concerning things like "If this  spell is active then  such and such  gets cast and the  moon is waning..does the  player get +2 for three rounds of  +1 for  four rounds?." I think that's the  price developers pay for creating such detailed (crunchy) systems. Some players just like to have the  answers. There is nothing wrong with that. A game with this may moving pieces is bound to create a large number of  questions. There might absolutely  be correct ways versus incorrect ways to use all these modifiers, skills, feats, spells..ect. I will likely interpret things at the table myself and let the chips fall where they may.

For me:
This game would normally not be my cup of tea at all. I got away from 3rd edition for a reason. Moreover I never took on Pathfinder for a reason. Those reasons were too much crunch combined with system bloat. This game is too weighty on the  system-crunch side, not skewed enough to the story-gamish side for my usual tastes. My biggest questions are, Is the game more complete because of all this stuff?  Does listing a laser ax and a plasma ax, make the game better? I'm not sure.

Not to be too self contradictory, but sci-fi is the  one genre where I  can  get behind some extra system crunch. Coming from that state of mind this game fits the bill for light conceptually accessible sci-fi concepts married to a more detailed, crunchy system.

Jumping back into Paizo's D20 system  is a bit daunting. I have been playing much lighter fare such as Fate, Apoc-World, the Cypher system, Phase, D&D Fifth edition, ect. Dealing with all the modifiers granted by races, classes, character themes,  feats, skills, equipment, positioning .... (the list goes on.) has my  head spinning a bit. It will take some serious reading along with a good perspective readjustment on my part to make this game work. (I mean even my  AAIE game, which is meant to satire overly random and chart filled games, has less in the way of charts and tables than this.)

Conclusion:
It's a big, pretty, expensive book.
If you are looking for a game that emulates space opera shoot em ups, with a science fantasy perspective and are not afraid of  the number crunch that comes with Paizo's  d20 vision, then it's a great choice.
If you have no desire to crunch numbers or a 520+ page book is not something you are willing to wade through then perhaps a different game might be your gateway to the stars.

Thanks for reading.
So this was too long....
Look for an actual play report or two when I finally get to take this bear for a spin.
-Mark.




Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A note about AAIE at Gen-Con 2017

Gen Con is almost upon which was my personal goal for  AAIE to  be wrapt. I don't think the  editing of AAIE is  quite done more to the point I know I personally have not done the amount of art I would have liked to. Unless something amazing happens I'll change the timetable in my mind. Not being done quite yet isn't a big deal, at the end of the  day  AAIE is a homemade project with  no discernible anticipation beyond the people directly working with it.  No harm no foul as they say.
Related: 
A note about Gen-Con 17
If you are at Gen-Con on Wednesday Night look for Neal running a table of AAIE for five players somewhere in that vast sprawling con. I think he will have contact information for the Dustpan games website and whatnot with him. Unfortunately I won't be there because of work, money, anxiety, all those things that conspire to keep me away from a huge con like Gen-con.
If by chance you do see Neal at the con tell him I said, "Thank you for running the game." Then tell him you ... "know Johann Tyree."



So I'm truncating this post here, I plan to continue it at another point.
Fact is it's Tuesday Night... and If this doesn't get scheduled to be posted Wednesday morning everything I wrote at the top will be moot..

Thanks for reading  .
Mark.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Anatomy of Weapons (AAIE)

No AAIE New updates, Editing continues The goal is still to be done by Gen-Con.
Some of the new players from the games that happen on saturdays  have been leveling up their characters. So far the level up system  has not received any complaints. I think advancement one of the  stronger or at least more concise sections of the  game so I'm glad it's going smoothly.



  1. Peasant weapons are the weapons a character gets stuck with if that character charter was unlucky enough not to gain a legit weapon skill during initial character generation. Peasant weapons are admittedly pretty silly. A chunk of wood, a dead chicken, a frying pan, are all possibilities. They are distinctive in that most peasant weapons have a secondary mundane use. A pitch fork can be jabbed into a foe or used to pitch hay; a rolling pin is still a rolling pin even if a character chooses to  hit  slug goblins with it. Also distinctive is that peasant weapons have the advantage of ease. In Other words a character with no weapon skills can still roll a peasant weapon the use it proficiently. It's the difference between  picking up a skillet then clubbing a guy with it, versus picking up a sword while knowing how to use it. Eight of the 20  default peasant weapons have positive perks. One the "log" has a negative trait "only able to attack every other turn" while also having the stun Perk.
  2. Light weapons: Light weapons are the smallest of what might be considered martial weapons. This is the  first class of weapons in which a character needs to have a skill in order to use the  weapon effectively. The small weapons as a class have some advantages. Some of them are easy to conceal, such as daggers or even hand axes. Some of them have perks such as "second attack" that can extend the weapons damage potential if the player rolls well enough.The attribute Athleticism is used to determine a character's attack bonuses with  more of the light weapons than any other class of weapon. In fact twelve of the  twenty  light weapons have athleticism as their attached attribute. A rapier for example is a light weapon with it's attack modifiers based of athleticism. With  a few lucky the rolls to trigger the  "second attack" perk rapier can be every bit as effective as a heavier long sword. 
  3. Medium Weapons: Medium weapons are where most of the  "sensible" choices reside. A sturdy long sword a nice battle ax that sort of thing.  character needs to have a skill to wield these sorts of things effectively (without suffering disadvantage) Medium weapons tend to  have the  best balance between  damage along with perks. In other words more medium weapons have perks like "do an extra 1dX damage," or "gain a second attack."  These perks expand the damage dealing  range of the weapon while allowing the base damage to be nicely average. Workhorse weapons is a good way to describe the medium weapon  class.
  4. Heavy Weapons: These are the  big boys of melee weapons. Great swords, Great axe, morning star, those kind of  death dealing devices. A character needs to have a skill to use a heavy weapon effectively. Those careers which grant heavy weapon skills during character generation are few. Heavy weapons  do more damage, that's the first big benefit they  grant a character. The second benefit is heavy weapon are where the  major combat perks start to crop up. Perks like knock down, crush (weakens armor), push back, even stun crop up on the  heavy weapon chart. The drawback is the  majority of the heavy weapons are linked to a character's brawn  attribute. If a character rolled up lucky enough to have a heavy weapon but unlucky enough to have a low brawn, chances are the character will miss quite a bit with that big slab of steel. A whopping seventeen of the twenty  heavy weapons have perks attached , while a few have limitations like "too large for confined spaces.
  5. The final basic  type of weapons are ranged weapons. The  obvious advantage of ranged weapons is ... range.  Not to  run too far afield let me take a quick aside to  look at range in AAIE. Range is broken into abstract categories. From nearest to farthest they  go like this: Melee, close, medium, lastly Long. It takes one action to move from long range coming to medium or from medium to close range. Close range  can be come melee range if an attack is declared. Melee range denotes two entities actually locked in a fight, not just being near to each other. Being able to stand at long range plunking enemies twice before they get into close range is a nice ability to have. Again the  character creation system is a barrier here. There're not that many career paths that give the ranged weapon skills out for free.  Just like other martial weapons in order to use ranged weapons effectively  the character needs to have had some training.
    These weapons are mostly focused on athleticism, though heavy crossbows give a nod toward our more brawny friends.
There are two other "sub" classes of weapons which are found only in the  town section of the  game. 

  1. Extra heavy weapons: Which are a silly bunch of  extremely large weapons for extremely large combatants. The extra heavy weapons section is  typical AAIE silliness wherein I take the normal weapon concept then push it out a bit further into the stupid zone. These come with the limitations such as minimum brawn scores needed to wield or "always attacks last" The primary upside is they do big damage. The secondary bonus is now a character can swing an anvil on a stick if they're so inclined. 
  2. There are orcish weapons. Orcish weapon's details are generated randomly. Basically The  orc crafter takes a few pointy things, ropes them together to form something  extra pointy. The interest here is that orcish weapons might be statistically better than other things of their same  size class or price. Alternately they might be much worse when min maxed based on price vs effectiveness. Again this is all a bit silly, but if the  players want to throw spiked Gnome skulls at their enemies, the orc crafts person is the quickest way to possibly make that happen.
That pretty much sums up how weapons are classified. 

Weapons are the characters gateway to extra perks. If you were one of the two people who read the "anatomy of a perk" post I wrote a few weeks back you may remember that perks are "extras" that are triggered by good die rolls. As a system perks are very combat focused, weapon perks are understandably  almost exclusively combat focused.
A character using a skill to make an attack while wielding a weapon which  has two perks attached will have five perks to choose from on  a highly effective roll. Assuming that none of the  five perks are duplicates, having a weapon with it's own perks greatly expands the player's combat options. 

Another facet of the weapon perk concept is it will provide a mechanical bonus not predicated on improving the percentage chance of success. A perk isn't a plus one. Adding a new perk to a magical weapon is a perfectly viable option. I feel it's more interesting than the flat  plus one sword model. First of all the player has to roll well enough to trigger a perk  which means the bonus is not automatic with every swing. This might be counter intuitive. If a magic item is magic all the time why the hell would we predicate it's use on a good roll? I get that point. I even agree to a point. My only answer for that point is "This isn't that game."  This is a game based on the idea of things not going right all the time. While it is mechanically one hundred percent possible to provide a magic sword to a character that does extra damage with every successful hit, I would have to ask why some other more experienced  adventurer doesn't have that awesome sword already? Weapon perks allow for cool effects that don't always happen which fits the tone of the game. Besides there are rules for creating random magical items in the game as well, which we will cover in another "anatomy" post. 

On Skill Rarity:
As I stated above characters get skills via the character generation process which doesn't guarantee a decent weapon skill. This is in line with the core concept of the game. Most of the characters are not qualified to be adventurers. Running around with a frying pan trying to conk  various baddies over the head is the aesthetic I was going for. While this might seem frustrating at first making good use of the town to hire skill trainers can make getting a better weapon skill attainable (Expensive but attainable.)


That is a basic primmer on  AAIE weapons from light to heavy. Plus a nod to the stranger varieties found in the  "The Town." 
The  general take away  is character weapons are most limited at the beginning before the town is built out. At the early stages of the game the players have to rely on raw luck concerning what weapons their characters can use effectively. Once the  town has resources like trainers the weapon skill options open up for all future charters. Combine that with other town add-ons like  weapon-smiths the available options expand even more.


Thank you for reading, have a great weekend.
-Mark

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Do you even campaign bro?

cam·paign
kamˈpān

noun
1.
a series of military operations intended to achieve a particular objective*, confined to a particular area*, or involving a specified type of fighting.
"a desert campaign"
synonyms: military operation(s), maneuver(s); More

verb
1.
work in an organized and active way toward a particular goal, typically a political or social one.
"people who campaigned against child labor"
synonyms: crusade, fight, battle, push, press, strive, struggle, lobby
"they are campaigning for political reform"



When using the term "Campaign" to describe a roleplaying game the phrase"Particular Objective, confined to a particular area" part puts me off. Moreover I think it's just a convenient term held over from the hobbies wargaming roots.

What I normally run is not by definition a campaign. There is rarely a particular objective. I generally put situations in front of the players then conduct my GM'ing duties largely based off what they choose to do. The character objectives rarely single out any specified goal. The goals tend to be loosely tied together, by picking one the players will likely have an effect on the others.

The "particular area" part of a campaign is a bit dicier to dismiss out of hand. On a large scale as Gm's we are limited by those areas which we have prepared enough of in advance to be effectively used in game. Unless your Gm is Alexis from the Tao of D&D who has set out to map the entire globe, the GM's advanced prep is going to limit what areas characters can effectively explore. I wouldn't try to stop players from going anywhere they wanted, but I know pre-prepped areas play out better than non prepped areas. With tis in mind I tend to prep as much area as possible even if it's only in broad strokes. I can mine into an area's details as they arise but I need to know at least broadly what an area holds before the players arrive.(To burn down the library, that's what they do when they arrive... bastards.)  At a smaller scale, I usually don't care if the  players take an adventure hook or not, so I can't say I  ever have a specific location in mind when I start a new game.

The term campaign makes sense when the Gm has laid out a specific goal, with a specific location where that goal can be met. Back to those military roots. In 1798 Napoleon wanted to divide the british empire when he campaigned into Egypt. He also wanted to establish trade, making himself look bad ass (taller) would have made him happy as well. Point being  we have a specific goal, we have a location, we have a campaign.
Writing about a real historic "campaign" isn't that different from a language point of view as "Save the prince that's being held captive in the castle." It doesn't matter if it takes one game or if there are a hundred twists along the way which make the goal of saving that prince take twenty sessions, the  specificity  makes it a campaign. With any luck Admiral Nelson sink the parties boat while they're off saving the prince.
Absolutely the last time
I will use "bro"
on this blog.
EVER

So I guess the  answer to the title of this blog is  "Nah Bro" I don't exactly campaign.

So what is it I want to run?
Starting to run something new is the endgame in all this thinking.

I think the closest term is a "sandbox" game. It's a term I like. I like the idea of a sandbox better than I like the idea of a "hex crawl." I know the terms represent different techniques but something about the  word "crawl"  has never inspired me. I don't want the heroes crawling belly down through the muck for a whole multi session game. To me sandbox denotes something to be dug into, where toys are found, castles are built. I know it's a stupid distinction but it's how my brain works.

I very much want to run a game where exploration is the main driver.  Perhaps finding certain things, perhaps exploration for it's own sake.
Not knowing what lies around the next bend really fires my cylinders more than any other trope in fiction. I wrote a bit about this concept back in July of 2016. That post was more or less an open question to you the readers. Some good points were made, about not allowing  travel to be too easy. particularly,

 "If you zoom that out traveling by vehicle craft, you lose that chance to stumble across the details of a location. They are going to be hitting big landmark after big landmark. That's when exploration can get a little bland." (Geek Ken)

That point resonated with me. The D&D group from my long standing game has a flying ship sure. Their purpose in life in not exploration. They have been out to reform ley lines along with a few other goals (not getting eaten by a blue dragon being the  main goal last time we left off.) They have a course plotted, they have for a while.
Thinking ahead to running something new, considering I want exploration to be a big part of the game I'll have to avoid making travel too easy. For the same reasons I'll also have to prep much more than I have in the recent past. AAIE is a low prep game. My D&D game has been built out over  many years to the point where I don't have to prep all that much for it anymore. A new thing will be a completely different animal from either of those.

I will also have to think about Genre. As I'm a bit burnt out on fantasy right now. I'm not any good at horror more to the point I don't think horror supports my exploration theme. Steam or diesel punk are possibilities, though not my favorites. I'm not sure post apocalyptic hasn't been done to death. I like the idea of near future, not too heavy on the science fiction settings. Sci-fi could possibly make  moving around too easy anyway, unless I came up with some artificial constraint on  travel. A ship wreck , or some other such contrivance. I always wanted to run a game based on the Lewis and Clark expedition, only in an america filled with legendary creatures. I would have to work hard to find/ make a system to support that idea. The research would be a blast.

As you may have guessed:

  • I am writing this post without having spoken to any of the potential players.
  • Without having decided on a system to run. (I have a no list but I don't have a yes list)
  • Without having wrestled that  three headed bugbear known as "Scheduling"  (Scheduling has killed more games than the 80's satanism scare ever did...)
  • Without having decided on an actual  Genre.
  • I guess a reader could determine this is all very preliminary. That reader would be 100% correct.
I hope to  formulate some ideas in the  next week or so. When I do I will share them here as breaks from all the  AAIE nonsense.

That's it for now, just sharing some of the things germinating in my  brain.
As always thanks for reading.
-Mark.



Sunday, August 6, 2017

AAIE, The Town

No AAIE updates this post .

The series includes:


Over my past few posts I have written about  various aspects of the AAIE game , how I came up with them and what my intentions were when I wrote them. Any long time reader of this blog (if you are I'm so so sorry) might have noticed that much of AAIE runs counter to the other designs I have written about. 

The most obvious area that AAIE is different is in the area of player control over the creation of their own characters. Having completely random characters can be both freeing  and frustrating. There's no such thing as a lovingly crafted AAIE character. There's no such thing as an AAIE character that completely matches the players vision. In fact the game is set up in a way that some characters are barely even viable adventurers.


For me the lack of player control created a gap in the original game. After giving it some thought I decided that I had to write a second section that would give the players something to call their own. Otherwise AAIE would just be a meat grinder with  characters being rolled up and quickly dying, only to be replaced with another faceless slob. While that formula might be fun for a one off game, I never felt it would have any legs as a long term RPG.


My solution was "AAIE The Town." 
The town takes up the second half of the game document and begins with a description of the starting Inn. The inn is that ubiquitous place that adventurers in RPG's meet and where rumors are spread about deeply buried treasures. It's a cliche. As a gaming cliche I love it, it fits AAIE's motto of "Leave no Cliche Behind" perfectly. The town starts as just this initial inn located at a crossroads. Adventure locations get placed near enough for the players to travel to from the inn, but not close enough for the  inn to be threatened by whatever the  players stir up. 

The players can use treasure they find on their adventures to buy buildings and services for the town  after each adventure. It works on the theory that the returning adventures are going to spend gold in the town , and that gold will attract more people to the area. Historically anywhere in the world that wealth can be pulled form the  ground, it has brought sudden development. Think the California gold rush, silver rushes as far back as the mines of Laurion helping to fuel the wealth of  Athens, or more recently the  1990's diamond rushes in northwest Canada. The logical leap that needs to be made here is that the players spend money  to buy and upgrade buildings as a representation of their economic impact on the area, not always as a direct purchase by the characters. Characters go into some god forsaken cave, they kill a multi legged tortoise god, and  steal his giant emerald eyes. Word gets out and a blacksmith and her family move to the area. Then perhaps some farms sprout up in the recently cleared woods. An apothecary shows up. So on, so forth.

hidden Apothecary and operating theater
 old St Thomas Church London
The town is a players way of moving towards what they want their future AAIE characters to be
better at or have access to. Each addition to the town opens up new options for a players current AAIE character and expands the options of all future characters played in the same game. A level 1 apothecary can provide healing potions. That service will always be there even if the characters who paid for it are long dead. A player wants access to more weapon skills? Upgrade the inn so a fighting trainer moves in. Want to expand the abilities of Wizards? Build a school.

Some of the town options get a bit detailed. Additions like the Furrier that will pay for the skins of exotic animals add to the adventures available to players. The  Kobold clan that can be attracted to the town which will provide the labor needed to build roads and  mine raw materials, the effects of  which are to generate income form the town out side of the payers actions. Things like the Seedy Pub and the caravan add new products and even new playable races for the  players to experiment with. Moreover when a player buys a building they have the option of retiring their current AAIE character and making that character the owner of said business and  thus a town NPC.

It is important to  remember the town represents permanent additions to the game that the players can call their own. A player may remember that they bought the black smith shop. When they buy an upgraded sword the player knows that the only reason they have that upgrade is through their own actions. The only time a GM may add a building or service to the town his or herself is if the players decide to buy a bank for the town. At that point a pool of gold is created that the GM can spend between games for upgrades to the town as they see fit. (Dead character's gold goes into the bank,  from which the players or the GM can make withdraws to buy town items. Before the bank is bought a dead character's gold simply dies with them.)

The town is a tangible measure of the  players activities in the game session to session. It gives the, an anchor in the other wise mad random  AAIE world. The recurring town NPC's become well known, and even well liked by players. 

One of my favorite NPCs from our game is Gren. Gren and her brother Ott were stable hands at the
inn who the  players hired as retainers for one adventure.  It did not take very long for the adventure to go bad and characters started dying. Ott failed a morale check early on and ran home.  Gren on the other hand passed all of her checks with  flying colors. Not only that she never got killed, which is amazing in it's own right. When the party returned to the Inn Ott swore he would never adventure again, but Gren had developed a taste for it. When the party bought a barracks for the town so they could hire better retainers, naturally Gren signed up to be a town guard. When the head town guard was hired by the party as a fighter retainer and met a horrible end at the claws of some random beast, naturally Green  stepped up and became the town's head-guard. At this point I don't think she would go on an adventure with the players, she is entrenched in the town, and doesn't need to adventure. New characters coming through are just more  new comers that she needs to keep an eye on. It's great little story and it all happened very naturally through  the  players interacting with the town.

Like all things the town comes at a price. The town represents a measurable jump in the amount of bookkeeping the GM must to to play AAIE. I would argue that even a full fledged AAIE town with multiple adventure sights, plot lines,NPCs, and buildings is still less prep than a full blow game of D&D. My reasoning being that an AAIE town grows one bit at a time in a natural fashion so the GM never has to do it all at once. I could be wrong, millage may vary and all that. The bulk of the pre game work is  stocking  stores with  new items and perhaps figuring some income for the town if that's something the town is capable of. 

There will be more on the town latter on. Until then here is the graveyard entry for our current games town.
Ohhhh Darwin we hardly knew ye...
Thanks for reading.
-Mark

  • Vud the wizard. (PC)
    • There lies poor Minotaur - you died bravely and your steaks were quite tenderized.
  • Rollo Baggins (PC)
    • He opened the door too fast, in fact he rushed, he would have made it but his head got crushed.
  • Here lies Dean (PC)
    • The inn keeper hated slightly less than the giant.
  • Here lies Gleason the Peasant NPC Retainer
    • You hear the brick hit the floor, and poor Gleason is no more
  • Here lies Payne NPC Retainer
    • Rolled by a door, dripped to the floor
  • Here lies Major. NPC Retainer
    • His last words were "You should have let me run away!" Burnt up real bad.
  • Here lies Shlouf The guard (NPC Retainer)
    • He found his death in a bad place he ended up with a melted face.
  • Here Lies Ames (NPC Henchman)
    • A man who could carry all of your shit, He opened the door and was smashed just a bit..
  • Here lies Fidditch MacQuidditch: (PC)
    • Attacked with his mace but found his own face. His fate sealed tight when his teeth took flight.
  • Final resting place of Darwin Punchalot: (pc)
    • Darwin died as he lived, on his feet.
  • Here lies Ichabuck: (pc)
    • Ichabuck Russlefoot of her Majesty's Royal Institute of Astute Learning, the Third: weaver, wanderer, scholar ... pile of ash
  • Here be the remains of Durgus: (pc)
    • Hit by a lightning bolt, quite dead.
  • Here Lies Murkin: (PC)
    • The milk was strong in this one.
  • Here Lies Tumric: (Npc Retainer)
    • The bravest retainer of all. chewed to death by rats.
  • Here Lies Brad: (PC)
    • Died young in a tragic balloon/detect evil accident.
  • Here lies Millicent the Minotaur: (PC)
    • It was the damn elf's fault
  • Here lies Ocus, The Minotaur: (PC)
    • Lost in Archeron
    • [Simple engraving of a Minotaur head with "Fuck You" written on the horns]
    • Tastes like cow
  • Here lies Spriglywinks: (PC)
    • Tried to cast a spell
    • It didn't go well
    • He lost his head
    • Now he's dead
  • Here lies Hans the Brewer: (NPC)
    • He wasn't good at his job so he fell and broke his neck.





Tuesday, August 1, 2017

ON pacing, ON-line play, On Initiative

AAIE... Update:
I have been told character generation is  edited... That's a good half of the job or at least close to it done .. so it's a good sign.


We played AAIE on saturday , and let me tell you  it was something:

Anyone Who has read this blog for more than a year or so  (bless your heart) will ko that I am not a huge fan of playing online. However with life being what it is gaming online is the  best and perhaps only way I'm getting a session together anytime soon.
My biggest trouble with online games is pacing.  At the  table I feel i'm pretty good at keeping a game moving. I like to play with pace speeding up the descriptions when things get frantic, and slowing down  when things are calm. Online I don't think it translates as well. 

Online there are  train wrecks that a DM just can't foresee.
Some one's mic cuts out.
Someone can't hear.
Roll 20's voice chat gets squirrely and cuts one player out of a conversation.
A player needs to go put the trash out. 
A player posts a funny but distracting Gif to the chat box.

Whatever.. it all happens..
It's the nature of online games. None of it helps maintain good pacing or promotes player engagement.

No amount of GM prep can help when one of the players has mic interference and begins to sounds like a robot when they talk. ( Fish, and plankton. And sea greens, and protein from the sea. It's all here, ready. Fresh as harvest day. Fish and sea greens, plankton and protein from the sea. And then it stopped coming. And they came instead. So I store them here. I'm ready. And you're ready. It's my job. To freeze you. Protein, plankton... )

This is a real F8ing thing?  Don't ever magnify anything.
The game:
The  characters picked up where they left off last time, They were trying to retrieve and recover a brewery  which  for a number of convoluted reasons had been sucked into a pocket dimension ruled by gnomes. What the party didn't know  is that the  gnomes were actually producing beer to  feed a giant necrotic bane maggot deeper in the tunnels. The maggot was created by a Mad wizard Elf-squid (who is a former player character who mutated himself horribly and went insane a different game session.) The mad-mad-mad wizard had captured the leaders of the five Gnome tribes (all save one) and taken their wealth in tribute. The wizard was plotting  how to capture the final gnome king when the players  arrived and started mucking about. The bane Maggot along with  some undead creeping vines  was the  guardian of the gnomes and the treasure. If this all of this sounds silly congratulations you're on to me. It was a silly scenario as is the norm with AAIE games.

This plays into a session of AAIE at Dexcon where Neal's friend Kelly ran a game in which the  town was overrun by Gnome tribes arguing about their leadership... What a perfect time for an evil Mad-mad-mad-mutant X-player character to strike. As a rule the more these adventures can be tied back to the  town or back to other adventures the  better the whole thing works.



We had five players.
Neal, Jay, Marcus, Jens, and Charles.
Roll20 Voice. 
At the table five players would be a great number. A small enough group that everyone is guaranteed some time to shine, but large enough that the adventure can have some meat to it. Like I said above however playing online makes managing  five players a bit more challenging.
First off google hangouts only supports five talkers. Counting me we had one too many. We switched to roll20 chat and that's finicky about the browsers it works with and I think the  gentlemen in germany were getting shafted by it. Jay came to the rescue by quickly creating a discord channel for us to use. Mid game everyone had to jump to discord. While the quality of the discord VoIP was far superior to roll twenty, some of the players had never used it before. one more hurdle to jump. Lastly some people are just naturally louder speakers than others. Neal and Marcus for example speak more quietly than say  Jay or Charles. At the table this makes very little difference, on the  computer where everyone has mic levels and different set ups it can be a pain in the  ass.

Most of the game was trying to make sure everyone got a chance to  be involved. A tricky balance involving  moving initiative around, calling on players in differing orders based on the  situation and basically trying to create pace by  knowing who was ready to act right away and who wasn't.
Sometimes that works, and  sometimes it doesn't. 
It doesn't help that I have always hated the D&D initiative system and tend to ignore it whenever I can get away with ignoring it. 

For example when the  king ot the sand gnomes got knocked down , Jay's character picked up his crown and I went with that.  A second later it was obvious Jen's character was going to grab for the fallen crown as well. I could have rolled the situation back and had Jens and Jay roll contested athletics checks to see who was getting that crown first, but I had already  stated Jay picked it up. It was my mistake. It also happened in mid turn with  a bunch of angry gnomes facing off with the party from behind a barricade of beer barrels. Luckily Jens is the type of guy who rolls with such things and we didn't have to break up the scene. (Best part of playing with a bunch of  other GM's, they tend to know what's going on even if they don't agree with it.) I can see where going strictly by initiative order and  saying "ok that's your one action," and "that's your one action, ok now it's your turn" would have been better in that situation. I just hate the idea of  breaking the tension and general franticness of the scene. It became:
 With an angry mob of gnomes crowding the barricade the  gnome king  climbs to the top of a barrel and begins to speak in perfect common...
"Surface dwelling invaders what do....OOMPH!"
Jay's Character throws the rock at the  gnome king, hitting him square in the  forehead and knocking him off the barricade. The gnome king's crown rolls off his head, Jay's character stoops down and picks it up.
It was cinematic even if it wasn't exactly correct.


Another example of pacing that I think did work, was while the party was fighting the maggot, Marcus wanted to cast a spell. He was however a bit undecided on how and what. I skipped him and came back to him at the end of the round. Nathaniel (Marcus's character) is an inexperienced wizard in a dank cave fighting a hideous giant  maggot which just spit high proof alcohol all over everyone. I consider skipping Marcus to move on to  other characters just  a sign of Nathaniel being a bit shook. There is no reason to hold everything up and wait when the next player is going to run in and stab the thing with a glaive. Give the wizard some room to breath. 
In the end he summoned a Gnome skeleton. the skeleton attacked the giant maggot and critically failed it's roll. The magott summarily swallowed the gnome skeleton whole and regurgitated it as a projectile a few rounds latter.

Somethings we got a chance to test:

Environment Perks:
This worked fine for me. The Maggot spewed high proof alcohol as a breath weapon. The left of ver residue being highly flammable for a few rounds. Eventually Nathanial set it aflame so the Pool of alcohol perk became the Pool of fire perk. The maggot got to invoke it at one point  biting a character and tossing him face fist into the  flames... Lucky for that guy he was a priest of flames (neals character) and called on his god to  help him (he took half damage.)
the Environment Perks worked quite well  game wise as it gave me a way to mechanically link my descriptions back to what was going on in the fight. I think this will become a much bigger part of what I do when running games in the future.

Wild Dice:
Priests have this interesting power where they may reroll of any one die in any round a number of times equal to their leadership stat. What's more they may  grant to s re-roll to another player. It's this game's version of bless. The  unfortunate thing is that even though it has been part of the game from the very beginning, it often gets forgotten. Not this game it was used and used well by both priests in the party. I don't think it unbalanced the game. Two out of the three times the wild dice were used the re-roll improved the result which was rolled. Once it had no effect at all, which is fine.
My favorite part is asking, "How does you god help the other player with this roll?" I just know that I'm always going to get some interesting answers form that one. (Jen's character's god is "the Eater of Funk" so yeah things get strange)

Magic:
Any time someone new is exposed to the casting rules the results amaze me. AAIE magic is freform in the  extreme and just the idea that the character has these "words" and  the player can  use them in any way they see fit to create spell effects often comes as a complete surprise. I can see why  some players would hate it, and others will embrace it. I for one don't want to change it a bit.


Well that's it for now.
Thank you for reading.

-Mark.