Tuesday, August 27, 2019

E&E3: XP Tables and Basic Class Design

I still haven't quite figured out how to compactify the monster chapters yet. It's one of those nagging feelings, like I'm missing a puzzle-piece. I both hate and love that, because I know it will come to me eventually.

In the meanwhile, I thought I'd do a quick post on the (more or less) final form that the character class chapter has taken. Just a few notes and hints and things that I consider relevant or fun.

The 1st version of Engines & Empires was out-in-the-open-covertly Rules Cyclopedia based. All of the class tables went up to 36th level. All of the demi-humans existed as racial classes (though none of them were ever dual-classed: the original E&E elf was explicitly just a cleric with elf racial abilities, for example, in the same way that a BECMI dwarf is a fighter with dwarf abilities).

In the 2nd version of E&E, I kind of halfheartedly broke this up by treating all human characters as single-classed but able to pick any class and take it up to 10th level; and all demi-human characters as automatically dual-classed and able to take both classes up to 8th level, with one of their classes fixed by the choice of race (e.g. elves had to be mage/something and you couldn't dual mage with tech, so elves were either mage/fighters or mage/experts).

In the latest version of E&E, I've abandoned any pretense to race-as-class. It's a little more complicated, but in the end I think most players prefer to have the options. So here's how it works now:
• After players roll stats, they select one of five kindreds: human, elf, dwarf, goblin, or ogre.
• As in the 2nd version of the game, each kindred other than human has a favored and a disfavored attribute score, and if the disfavored score is the higher of the two, you swap them. That hasn't changed.
• But now, any kindred can pick any class (but only one—there's no more dual-classing). The classes are fighter, rogue, magician, inventor, and scholar. (The scholar serves as a kind of fighter/magician or cleric).
• There are no level limits, but non-human kindreds do have favored and disfavored classes. Humans favor all five classes and advance in them normally. Everyone else has two favored classes in which they advance normally (e.g. fighter and magician for elves, or rogue and inventor for goblins), and the other three classes are "disfavored" for that kindred and take a −10% XP penalty. If your prime requisite is high enough, your prime XP bonus will cancel out this penalty, but if the prime for that class also happens to be a disfavored attribute for your kindred, that can really mess you up. In short, there won't be a lot of elvish inventors or goblin magicians running around without an XP penalty (but you can certainly play them if you want to).

And that's pretty much it. Any character can take any one class up to level 10, but if it happens that your favored class lines up with your favored attribute, you're more likely to have a high prime requisite and advance a little faster; and if you try to play against type, you might wind up advancing a little slower. But it will never be more drastic than ±10% of earned XP.

In fact, standing back and looking at the race-and-class system like this, it resembles Basic Fantasy RPG more than any other edition or retro-clone.

But I do limit levels to 10th, for a few reasons. Some of my main sources of inspiration (Beyond the Wall, Dragon Fist) at least stop their tables at 10th, even if they don't explicitly limit character advancement. And I find that a campaign is only really fun up to that level. But stopping there also means that 9th level doesn't have to be some special cutoff like it is in Basic, where suddenly there are no more level titles or hit dice and the XP table kinks linear. I've dropped all of that for E&E3 by making the last experience level "just another level," like so:

Rogue XP
Inventor XP
Fighter XP
Scholar XP
Magician XP

Rogue Titles
Inventor Titles
Fighter Titles
Scholar Titles
Magician Titles
Chief Engineer
Top Gun
Master Chief
Lord Paladin
Great Sage
High Magus

Doubling the XP at 10th level holds the endgame off for just a bit longer, and it puts those 10th level spells and inventions a little bit further out of reach for a while. But I do really like how elegantly the five XP tables line up with one another when arranged like so. As for the level titles, I'd already posted those here before, so no real surprises there.

Regarding attacks and saves, I decided to "de-granularize" them and make them work pretty much exactly as in B/X, including the "3-point kink" on the second step up the table that went away between B/X and BECMI. That is, the attack levels for all classes are now:

To-Hit Bonus; Class & Level
+1 ; Fighter 1–3, Rogue and Scholar 1–4, Magician and Inventor 1–5
+3 ; Fighter 4–6, Rogue and Scholar 5–8, Magician and Inventor 6–10
+6 ; Fighter 7–9, Rogue and Scholar 9–10
+8 ; Fighter 10

Saving throws follow a similar pattern, except that these are now the same for all classes, as they were in E&E1. After doing an analysis on all the save tables in B/X and BECMI, it turns out that if I wanted to average all the saves together to make a single saving throw number, the differences between the classes really do disappear, and the fighter doesn't have "the best saves" compared to the other classes, not really. (In E&E2, I made saves improve at the same rate as attacks to give fighters an advantage in this category, but in actually, that advantage shouldn't be there for a single save number. It turns out that Swords & Wizardry basically had that part exactly right all along.)

But I did want to keep to B/X-style simple, chunky steps. So saving throws now divide all of the characters into three clear tiers:

ST 7-in-20 (35%): Levels 1–4
ST 9-in-20 (45%): Levels 5–8
ST 12-in-20 (60%): Levels 9–10

Finally, regarding the character classes' actual special abilities:

One thing I definitely wanted to keep from the previous two versions of E&E was the absence of weapon and armor restrictions by class. Any class can equip anything. I just like it better that way. So to preserve the fighter's niche of damage output and tanking, they have two special abilities: they can attack twice in melee if the player accepts a to-hit penalty on both attack rolls (the penalty starts out at −5 and gradually dwindles down to −1 at high levels: in other words, in this B/X based game of mine that only goes up to level 10, the fighter never actually quite reaches the point where he can just freely make two attacks per round at no penalty, like a 13th level AD&D fighter or a 15th level B/X fighter); and fighters have a reserve hp pool of 2 hp per level that they can use to heal themselves between encounters (like a paladin's lay on hands, but it only works on the fighter himself; I don't think it's too unbalanced if it's based on the ability of a fighter sub-class).

Rogues (called "experts" no longer, except as their 4th level title) have their traditional bonus skill points, plus two class perks: whenever initiative is simultaneous, rogues act as if they've won the initiative and go first anyway (although enemy rogues on opposing sides still tie); and once per day per two levels, a rogue can "gamble" on a die roll (attack, save, or skill check), rolling twice and keeping the better roll, and if he happens to roll doubles (meaning, no benefit from the use of the ability), that daily use of the ability is retained rather than used up. (This also serves to push rogues into saving their limited uses of this ability for skill checks, rather than combat, since skill checks in E&E3 work as they did in E&E1, rolled on a d6 against a skill rank, rather than under an attribute on d20 as in E&E2).

The magicians and inventors work as mages and techs did in E&E2, with magicians having magic and inventors having technology. Scholars are like magicians that give up all the wizardry and druid magic (keeping only the really priestly-feeling magic) in exchange for better combat stats.

* * *

Oh, and I almost forgot about alignment! Yeah, so… after E&E2 had alignment more or less "fixed" by your choice of race and class (I hear tell that LotFP does a similar thing), I was all ready to keep that pretty much the same going into E&E3… when I decided, there really wasn't a point, it's not a mechanic that ever affects anything except the occasional interaction with a sapient weapon (and I hate sapient weapons and try to avoid them where possible). So (again, making the final product resemble BFRPG even more strongly), I've all but eliminated alignment as a player-facing mechanic.

It still exists in the game: a couple of magical effects target Chaotic creatures. But as things stand now:
• Alignment is a Big Fat Cosmic Deal that mortals barely comprehend. If you're not a magician, your character may not even know that alignment is a Thing that Exists in-universe.
• The three alignments are now called Chaos, Balance, and Order. Mortals never have a permanent alignment, though they certainly may find themselves allied with forces of Chaos, Balance, or Order at a given time, according to circumstances.
• Most creatures, in fact, do not have a permanent alignment. The exceptions are weird-ass aliens and cosmic, planar beings. Abominations and Demons are always of Chaos. Fae and Angels are always of Order. (Yes, Fae are of Order. The realm of Faerie is all about stagnant, unchanging preservation. A place where a mortal can dance away ninety years at an elfin dinner party and never notice the passage of time, then crumble to dust the moment he returns to the material plane. Remember, kids, that Rip Van Winkle shit is horrifying.) Elementals and Nature Spirits are of Balance. And practically nothing else in the game has an alignment.
• The only mechanics that actually interact with alignment are the occasional spell, like a Protection Circle vs. Chaos (which will ward off abominations and demons but do jack-all against anything else, no mater how evil or psychotic or undead or lol-randumb), and the very occasional magical item, like the Holy Avenger sword (double damage to Chaotics). But stuff like this is rare.

So… yeah, that's pretty much all I wanted to talk about. Maybe soon I'll make some progress in the monster department. Still taking suggestions there, if anyone's seen any kickass, really compact bestiaries lately. Until next time, slán go fóill.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Making Headway

Had my first class as a TA. My heart was pounding in my chest with terror at the start. By the end, I felt the same thrill that I feel when DMing: "This was fun, let's do more of this."

So that's cool.

Meanwhile, I'm now up to the point where chapters 1–3 of Engines & Empires (3rd edition, imagine that) are pretty much done. I'm now working my way through chapter 4, technology, which is probably going to be the easiest chapter to revise. I was pretty happy with it during the last go-around, and so I don't need to do more than tweak the text to bring it in line with other changes. (The biggest change here, in fact, is the encumbrance system. I have to switch things over from the 8×8 encumbrance "grid" to the four-column table, so all the encumbrance values of items and gadgets become simple kilograms. E.g., if a thing was EV 2×3 before, it's now just "6 kg" and takes up six cells in a column.)

But when I get to chapter 5, monsters, whoa-Nelly. Previously, monsters took up about half the book's page count. I love monsters, and I love the variety, but I do not need to keep this giant bestiary in the book. It's far too easy to slap some basic monster stats together on the fly, or to re-skin what's already there, and so I really want to trim this section down. (Especially the enormous section on animals.) In fact, I'm starting to feel like the best possible monster stat format is the one used by OD&D's little white booklets, where there's a big table with all the monsters' stats, followed by a very brief description of what each monster is and what it can do.

But, I'm not sold on this. My hesitation comes from a question of usability. Certainly, the big table followed by short descriptions is compact in terms of page-count, but is it functional at the table in those moments when you need to quickly flip to a monster stat-block and remind yourself what it can do? I kind of feel like it would suck (no pun intended for this example) if I had to flip to page 101 and look up the table of "undead monster stats" to see a vampire's AC or move speed, and then flip over to 103 and find the vampire's monster entry to remind myself how the gaze attack or the regeneration worked.

Then again, maybe that's just not a big deal. But I would appreciate some input from other DMs out there. Given the choice, do you prefer monster stat blocks to be whole and expansive (as they are in Holmes, B/X, BECMI, the Rules Cyclopedia, and the various Monster Manuals) or split up into a table of stats and then a block of descriptions (as they appear in the original little booklets, the 1e DMG, and many, many early OD&D and AD&D modules, especially the B-series)?

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Game Over

It is done.

The Table of Chaos is broken. Ascyet Vie Yannarg, Keeper of the Tablet and lich-cleric of Nergal, met the same fate as Ossithrax Pejorative. Neither Orcus nor Set will hold power over death in the realm of Karameikos, in the land of Brun, in the Known World of Mystara, year 1006 After the Crowning of the First Emperor of Thyatis.

Characters died. Most were in decent enough shape to be raised, particularly dwarf-cleric Bruenor, who was unceremoniously stopped dead in his tracks with a power word—kill right at the start of the battle. Poor Harold* the Sorceress, though, she got straight up lightning bolted off a cliff and into a bottomless abyss. And everyone knew what her fate must have been when her familiar, Aspen the tabby-cat, discorporated before their very eyes.

* Not her real name, but she owed lots of people money.

Silverhearte the elf survived with a single hit point. Of three characters that this player has run in three separate campaigns who have all been elves named Silverhearte, this was the first to survive past 3rd level, never mind surviving to see the end of a whole campaign.

Experience levels ranged from 4th to 8th at the end of all things. Most characters were solidly 7th level after calculating XP for the final session. The entire campaign lasted twenty months, a personal record for myself as a DM running OD&D as very nearly by the book as I could manage.

For my part, I think that I won't run another game of D&D (any edition) for a very long time indeed. It has been tremendous fun, most instructive, at times even enlightening, and increasingly tiresome to deal with.

It is probably also time for me to pare down my collection of gaming materials once again, as the pruning mood often strikes me after a long campaign like this, and only once before (when I sold off all of my 1st edition AD&D modules about ten years ago) did I ever for a moment regret it, and then only for a moment. Now I think it's time that I also divested myself of a lot of Classic D&D cruft that I've collected over the years, but which I never use. (I sometimes have occasion to end campaigns by giving away to players the spare Rules Cyclopedias that I somehow manage to accumulate cheaply over time; the tradition has carried on in this instance as well, as more than a few of my players have either expressed interest in Dungeon Mastering their own old-school games, or have already begun to.)

At the moment, I am tired, and a little bit shell-shocked. It is usually the case that the end of an action-packed game session will leave a DM with something like runner's high, as the adrenaline wears off. The end of a campaign, though, comes with a pleasant numbness. Self-granted permission to relax and not be "the DM" at all.

It is freedom.