Friday, June 26, 2015

Neo School Hack - The Witch Class

Okay, so in my buddy Steve's Pathfinder game I'm playing a witch.  Early on in my work on making new classes for Old School Hack I considered doing a witch.  Eventually I decided to stay with just the Wizard as the only arcane magic class.  I figured on maybe doing a grimoire of witchy spells which you could use to make a witch-flavored wizard.

But whatever--I totally changed my mind and so here's a proper witch class for my Neo School Hack rules.

The Witch

Classic Weapon: broom (or wand)

- A witch is the student or apostle of a strange, mysterious entity who grants magical powers (and sometimes cats) in return for attention, tea, and occasional live sacrifices.

Swept Away/rested: hopping astride a broom you fly up into the air and quickly away; you can fly for one hour per point of Commitment bonus (but a minimum of one hour)

Bubbling Cauldron/focus-rested: from a small cauldron full of weird ingredients bubbling over a fire you can draw off one potion or handful of dust containing any spell you know; a person hit with the dust or ingesting the potion is affected by the contained spell.

Hex/focus-encounter: with a creepy cackle you hex a creature with black magic; creatures are allowed a Commitment save, otherwise they will suffer -4 to all rolls for 24 hours; may be cast in reverse to remove the hex; hexes may be placed on objects so that anyone touching them is hexed.

Frog!/focus-encounter: you turn a living creature into a frog (or a newt); the victim gets a Commitment save or will remain a frog for 24 hours; may be cast in reverse to un-frog the person; this spell can also be broken by the kiss of a princess.

Black Cat Familiar/constant: you have a magical black cat as your constant, devoted companion; it can talk and with a moment of concentration you can see and hear what it sees and hears (and vice versa); AC-14, 1 HP.

Lovely Complexion, Dearie/constant: your skin becomes infused with arcane weirding and permanently turns green; only magical spells can conceal it; all Charm rolls are at -2 but you permanently gain one of two boons: +2 to Commitment saves vs. magic cast on you OR victims of your magic are -2 on Commitment saves vs. your spells.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

First session with Hero Lab at the table.

Okay, so I bought Hero Lab some time ago.  Mostly I wanted to see how a modern character sheet worked.  Our group is big on Pathfinder, and was big on D&D 3.5 before that.  Those two rules sets are famous (notorious?) for their massive crunch factor.  Even for non-spellcasting classes you will need at least two pages to hold all the info.  Also, as a GM I was finding it very time consuming to build higher level NPCs.  As a player that crunch gives you a lot of room to develop your character but as a GM it creates a steep curve as your game moves into the mid and upper levels.

Until recently my use of Hero Lab was mostly to play with "off line" because I didn't have a tablet or laptop.  But this month I got a nice little convertible laptop for my birthday (thanks wifey!)--and Saturday our buddy Steve graciously ran his Pathfinder game for us.  Steve has been using Hero Lab at the table to support his DMing for a while now and he has Hero Lab character (.por) files for all our characters. 

This time I not only brought my character sheets electronically with Hero Lab but also dispensed with all hardcopy game books.  At Steve's I connected to his home wifi and used the website for rules references.  I own a ton of Pathfinder stuff both in pdf and dead tree versions but that's a lot to bring along.  This time it was just the laptop/tablet and my dice bag--and once I find a good dice app I can skip the dicebag too.  No more massive bookbag for me anymore.

So how did it go?  Well on the little screen the print was tiny and fiddly to zoom in and out on.  As my eyes get older that becomes more important for me.  But I loved the hover-over pop-up information boxes for everything on the character sheet.  And I mean everything.  Once you have Hero Lab up you hardly ever have to look up anything else because it's all there in the program.  Skills, feats, spells, abilities, modifiers, etc. are all right there.  For me that was a huge time saver because with a spellcaster character (witch) there are a lot of spells, hexes, etc. which I keep checking details on.  The program was slightly slow when it came to switching tabs, which seemed odd since I only had Hero Lab and Firefox up, but not so much as to interfere with play.

The bottom line: from now on it's Hero Lab for me when I'm playing.  I may bring a print out in case technical problems crop up but don't expect to need it often.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cult of the Octomom

Okay, so I had the opportunity to play Old School Hack again today--plus the opportunity to meet a couple members of our "rival" Castles & Crusades group.  Our DM Bill has been running two groups through his C&C campaign and this was the first time I've met the mystery players from the other group.  They'd also played Old School Hack not too long ago using my "Long Ride to a Short Death" scenario.  This time it was OSH again with Bill downloading a scenario from the esteemed Fictive Fantasies site.  Three of the players from the previous game continued with their characters but two of us started with new characters.  In my case I decided to try the paladin which I'd designed earlier as a playtest.

Since this was a silly game I decided my paladin worshiped an octopus deity--or, wait, no an ocean mother sea goddess with an octopus as symbol.  And for corresponding personality I decided he was a surfer dude type (buff, tan, long bleach-blond hair, Hawaiian print tunic, flip-flop sandals, and a classic surfer dude accent).  His primary equipment included a trident, surf board, and coconut tanning oil.  Hmm, but what was he doing in the middle of the desert?  Well obviously he was a missionary bringing the worship of the Octomom to the heathen masses far from the sea!  So tonight I thought I'd throw together some details for others wishing to follow the most excellent and totally gnarly path of the Octomom.

Cult Holy Symbol: octopus wearing a crown and holding up a fish, a trident, a ship, a seashell, seaweed, a branch of coral, an oar, and an anchor.

Cult Goal: to truly know what is tubular and what is bogus and help everyone to surf the gnarly wave of tubular while steering clear of a bogus wipe-out.  Also, stay tan (easier for some followers than others).

Cult Favored Weapons: trident, oar, and harpoon

Holy Water: sacred coconut tanning oil

Cult Battlecry: Surfs up!!!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Neo School Hack: The Ranger

Right, so I'm closing in on the end of design work for Old School Hack.  The last two classes are the ranger and druid.  I tossed some ideas together, then brought in my ranger class consultant (hi Kirk!) for a critique.  Here is the result:

Classic Weapon: bow

Deadly Shot/focus-encounter: taking careful aim at an enemy's vital point, the ranger scores +1 wound on a hit

Boon Companion/constant: the ranger gains a loyal companion creature which is much more intelligent than ordinary ones of its type.  The player decides on the animal type, but it may not be larger than a large wolf.  The critter has statistics of AC = 10, HP = 3, with an appropriate single 2d10 attack (with Face Dice) doing 1 wound.

Survival/constant: the ranger is a master of wilderness knowledge and easily finds food and shelter in normal wilderness situations, and gets +2 to Awareness rolls to survive in unusual environments

Natural Shadow/focus: with a few moments of preparation the ranger blends into nearby natural terrain, gaining +2 to Cunning rolls to avoid being noticed

Down Boy--Here Kitty/focus-encounter: using your charismatic presence and animal lore, you turn away (Daring check at +1) or lure closer (Charm check at +1) one animal-like creature; may be used on multiple animals per encounter but only once per animal.

It Went That-a-way/focus: taking a few moments to study the scene the ranger tracks quarry easily, if slowly, in favorable conditions (soft earth, etc.), and gets +2 to Cunning rolls in difficult circumstances; this talent may be used in reverse to cover tracks

Monday, May 25, 2015

"This one goes to 11"...looking at level caps in Neo School Hack

Okay, so I had a dive back into D&D 4E reading the three "Power" books I bought recently.  Old School Hack, which is the huge inspiration for my Neo School Hack, borrows a bit from 4E in the Talents which each character class gets.  In the original OSH and my NSH each class has six unique talents.  To that I've added separate races which each have three unique talents.

When a character levels up they get to add 1 to an attribute, plus gain either a talent or a hit point.  Characters may multi-class by taking talents from other classes, with the restriction that they may not have more cross-class talents than talents from their starting class.  So with six base class talents, three race talents, and a maximum of six cross-class talents, there is sort of a cap of 15 levels.  Yes, there will be boring "empty" levels where the character gains a HP rather than a talent.  But a maximum of 15 levels isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Early editions of D&D (and modern OSR rules like ACKS) run out around 14.  So a cap of 15 levels is well in keeping with the spirit of the rules.

But I'm not sure whether I really like the idea of characters essentially being forced into multi-classing.  As a fighter you'd have to scrounge around to keep to only fighter-appropriate talents from other classes to stay "pure".  And then there's the problem with wizards learning spell-talents from grimoires.  Wizards have a talent which allows them to gain to get access to a new six-spell grimoire (each of which costs a talent gain to learn).  So they can keep leveling for as long as there are more grimoires to acquire.  None of the other classes is that open-ended.

And clerics get their basic six talents plus access to the six domain talents for their deity.  If the domain talents count as class talents (which I suppose they could), then that's six basic talents, six domains, three racial, and up to twelve cross-class.  So clerics can keep gaining talents for 27 levels.

And alchemists have lots and lots of sub-talents to explore as they level up.  The druid class I'm working on will have a couple Circles of six talents which are a bit like cleric domains.

Hmm, okay so there's a bit of design imbalance here.  Obviously there are two approaches to re-balancing things: limit the more open-ended classes or provide more talents for the other classes.  Re-balancing the problematic classes can be accomplished simply by treating the class-specific domain/spell/circle talents as cross-class talents.  But that still leaves the other classes with fewer options to have fun with.  Eventually I should look into providing all classes with a couple additional six-talent sets of talents, like combat style schools for fighters.  The character could buy into the class sets in the same way a wizards buys into a grimoire.

But I'm really torn about adding so many talents--yes, we're talking rules bloat here.  One of the charms of Old School Hack is its simplicity.  Players can review all the classes, make an informed decision, and jump into play with a character very quickly.  My Neo School Hack rules take the lovely simplicity of OSH but add bulk in the form of more classes, races, and talents.  It's still very simple mechanically but a new player has many more options to review before deciding on what to play, or before even deciding what talent to take on leveling up.

Overall I'm coming up on the last of my work on NSH because I've finalized what I want to have in it and because I want to place a hard stop on rules bloat.  All I have left now are the final two classes: druid and ranger.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Neo School Hack: The Paladin

Right, so here's my paladin class for Neo School Hack, which is my version of Old School Hack by Kirin Robinson.  The basic template for classes is six talents unique to that class.  However, I have already experimented with variations on that base and this class has a new variation.  The paladin has five regular talents, plus a special talent containing a set of three thematic sub-talents called "Devotion".  The Devotion talent may only taken once and one of the three talents contained in it must be chosen at that time.  Once chosen it may not be changed--unless the character has a compelling in-character reason and even then must complete an appropriate quest worked out with the DM.

The Paladin

Detect Evil/focus-encounter: concentrating, the paladin listens to the surrounding auras and will sense any evil creatures in a 90-degree area out to 30 feet.

Lay on Hands/focus-rested: pausing to pray and gather holy energy, the paladin lays a hand on an injured person and heals them of 1 wound.

Sacred Immunity/constant: filled with holy essence, the paladin is immune to all diseases, normal or magical.

Aura of Courage/focus-encounter: the paladin's inner resolve makes fear impossible, not matter what the circumstances; and with a declaration of holy purpose, all companions and allies within 15 feet are emboldened, gaining +2 to any rolls against fear.

Glow/focus-encounter: pausing to pray and express inner holy essence, the paladin glows with a golden light like a divine torch.

- Divine Avenger/focus-encounter: channeling holy energy into a held weapon, the paladin gains +1 to hit and +1 wound of damage to attacks against evil creatures.

- Divine Protector/focus-encounter: channeling holy energy into a held shield, the paladin gains +2 AC and +2 to saves when attacked by evil creatures.

- Divine Knight/focus-rested: the paladin gains a loyal, divine riding creature which is much more intelligent than ordinary ones of its type.  It can be called with a special prayer; once called it remains until dismissed to return to the heavens.  The mount is saddled and armored, with AC = 14, HP = 3, with an appropriate one 2d10 attack (with Face Dice) doing 1 wound.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I read a steampunk book and I think I liked it.

I have an ambivalent relationship with the steampunk genre.  I love the whole look of it--the two decades straddling the turn of the last century have a great aesthetic.  But as a gamer I don't find the idea of gaming there very interesting.  For me it's really all about the visuals of steampunk.

But I picked up a book a little while ago on a whim and finally got around to reading it.  The Court of Air by Stephen Hunt is set in a fantasy version of late 19th century England, with other fantasy surrogate nations nearby.  And we've got airships, gear-work people, fey magic, druid-y earth magic, clock-work computers, and ancient lost cities in the mix.  But it also has some weird elements like kings who get their arms amputated for their coronation, and creepy human transformation bio-engineering.  It starts out pretty well, with two protagonists from miserable backgrounds who turn out to be a complementary pair of heroes pulled into a massive plot to destroy the world.

But that's where it sort of fell down for me.  The first half or so of the book is solid steampunk, just the sort of thing I was looking for.  I was in the groove for mystery, murder, intrigue, and cool bits of fey and clockwork spicing things up.  But then it spins into a rather over-the-top massive war with ancient evil gods and stuff.  The shift in the latter part of the book kind of threw me off.

But overall a good read.