Saturday, July 19, 2014

Japanese Style Combat

Okay, so I'm still cogitating over how to do a good Robotech style mecha game.  One thing which I need is mechanics for what I call "Japanese Style Combat".  It seems to me that in most samurai, mecha, and other anime stories the combat has a particular style.  Offense and maneuver are everything and defense (in the sense of armor) is nothing.

Before I go on, let me lay out the opposite, let's call it "Western Style Combat".  This style seems to focus on offense and defense, with maneuver being a minor consideration.  An example being a bar brawl where the two fighters stand there trading blows and taking hit after punishing hit.  You're badass because you can dish it out and you can take it.  A big part of being a combatant is that you can take a lot of damage and still come back strong.  This is rather like D&D, where there is minimal maneuver and a lot of trading blows until somebody runs out of hit points.

But in Japanese Style Combat damage is wicked deadly and armor is mostly a fashion statement.  Thus maneuver is critically important to avoid being hit at all.  (Check out this video on YouTube for an example of "Japanese Style Combat" with a scene from Macross.)  And damage seems to come in three levels: the nick, the critical wound, and the killing blow.
  • A nick is a very minor, essentially cosmetic wound which can score you psychological points, be the drawing of first blood, or (in large numbers) make you look like you've been through hell.  But the nick has no actual effect on the victim.
  • A critical wound is major damage, like a limb lopped off or a pierced lung.  The victim isn't dead but they are seriously impaired and will die soon with out major medical care.  Someone with a critical wound can still act for a little while (in RPG terms a few rounds) but is probably a goner.  They are usually literally bleeding all over the place in spectacular fashion.  A good example is the club fight scene in Kill Bill where she takes on the Crazy 88s and chops off arms and legs right and left.
  • The killing blow is just that, a hit which kills instantly.  The victim may live just long enough for one brief, minor action like pressing a button or uttering a curse, but that's about it.
I don't see an easy way to implement Japanese Style Combat with games which use hit points, particularly ones where a character continues to gain hit points over time.  I think it needs more of a skills based system with lots of maneuver skills and opposed rolls, and discrete wound levels corresponding to the three levels above.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Some Random House Rules for Traveler

Okay, so our bi-weekly Castles & Crusades game was pre-empted by a massive thunder and lightning storm which took out the power in my neighborhood last night.  A couple of the dudes showed anyway and we hung out and chatted and snacked by candlelight for a bit before calling it a night. So while I waited for the power to come back on I had some time to think.

At first I was mostly thinking about how it's usually around hour six of a blackout that the roving bands of mutants appear and come after your canned goods.  But then I started mulling over how to run a sci-fi campaign.  So when the lights came back on (uncomfortable close to that six hour mark) I dragged Traveler off the shelf and hit up the character creation section.  So here are some random house rules for ya.

Enlistment: Just ditch the Enlistment roll.  This rule is sadistic and a simply waste of everyone's time.  Players get to pick whatever the hell career they want.  Optional: if they want to change careers, then they must make an enlistment roll; their reputation may have preceded them.

Survival: This rule is sadistic and a simply waste of everyone's time.  Instead of death failure here now means you've suffered some major catastrophe but aren't dead.  (But no, that which does not kill you does not make you stronger.)  Roll 1d6 and subtract 1 (permanently) from the corresponding characteristic: 1 = STR, 2 = DEX, 3 = END, 4 = INT, 5 = EDU, 6 = SOC.

Basic Service Skills: you should learn one basic skill per career, so...
Navy -- Vacc Suit 1 or Ship's Boat 1
Marines -- Vacc Suit 1 or Rifle 1
Army -- Vehicle 1 or Rifle 1
Scouts -- Vacc Suit 1 or Survival 1
Merchant -- Vacc Suit 1 or Broker 1
Other -- Streetwise 1 or Carousing 1

Reenlistment: Optional, unless you suffered a Survival failure, in which case you may not be quite the person you were before.

Also, I don't really like the set of weapons they have in Traveler for the Blade and Gun categories, mostly because they feel too dated for me for some reason (shotguns are for hillbillies, not futuristic adventurers).  Here are my revised "modern" lists.

Knife: 8+/3-/2D
Hatchet:  8+/3-/2D
Machete: 9+/5-/3D
Katana: 10+/5-/4D
Chainsword: 12+/8-/5D

Laser Pistol: 9+/7-/3D
Laser Rifle: 10+/6-/5D
Laser LMG: 8+/4-/5D
Gauss Heavy Rifle: 12+/7-/6D
Grenade Launcher: 10+/7-/7D
Missile Launcher (shoulder-launched): 10+/7-/10D

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Journal of Katherine, Entry 53

Preparation.  To travel into the heat, we arm ourselves with light clothing, food, and water bags.  We are apprehensive about the trip.  How to use the mirror?  Is it witchcraft?  How do we get back?  How do we find our way back to the portal?  Do we have enough water?  We assure ourselves about each question, and while as a group, we all have answers, but individually, we do not.  I especially am not convinced the travel is possible without witchcraft.  When all is said, we just trust each other.

Before we leave, I again chant my prayer and draw my rune on the floor.  It glows.  I almost lift off my feet as the energy flows into me.  I turn to the others, and ponder: are they enthusiastic like I am?  I last look at Trevor and say to him:  do you feel it: the emotion, the wonder, the bliss?  He must, since he is a member now.  But he doesn't answer, and then I add, "this is the best feeling, ever!"

An awkward moment passes, then Trevor gets out the four rings and remembers the one to operate the portal with the scene of the desert.  Trevor is the first to step through, then me, Brute, Ohm Uri and Kull.  I am in the desert.  The trip is done before I can blink my eyes.  It does not feel like we traveled far, yet, we are no longer in the attic of the mansion that I dislike so much.  We are now in a foreign, hostile land.  Trevor tells us about an uneasy feeling that if he dies in here, the rest of us will not be able to return by the portal.  That will not happen, if I can help it.

We trudge through the sand, following Brute's innate direction sense.  Step after step, the same scene, sand, sand, and sand.  Sand everywhere.  My mind wonders to Keith, my friend that I lost.  He once said that many find it difficult to work sorcery, yet it was easy for me.  But it has caused me some pain.  But it gives me such a rush, however.  I look again out, nothing more than sand.  I look to the right, and then to the left, and then where we came from.  All the same, sand. 

My mind wanders again, just like my legs feel like we are wandering over the sand, from nowhere, to nowhere.  I remember my first teacher of the divine.  He saved me from the streets when I was young.  An old man he was when I knew him.  He carried with him two glass pieces that he used to read.  He taught me to read, too.  Although he taught me the principles of the Light, he did not show me how to pray for intervention.  Again, that does not come easy for some, but for me, it has.  He also had other metal devices that he used to guide us when we traveled.  I was never good at those for it required memorization.  If he could be here now, Brute may learn something... 

Trevor grabs my arm and points to the distant city.  I try to focus on it, instead of my memories.  He states, rather smugly that he is correct.  I look at Trevor.  A feeling of dread washes over me.  I feel so terrible.  Trevor is doing whatever I ask of him.  He is so cheerful and full of energy.  He also took the vows of my faith.

We all travel slow, and the temperature is hot.  I try one of my early prayers to shield me from the heat, but it does not work like Trevor's freshening cantrips.  He has more enthusiasm, determinism, and resilience than Brute or Kull, on this trip.  How does he do it?  We press on all day, not stopping for anything.  Normally we would stop for Trevor, but he does not need to rest.  But we drink.  And drink.  The water will not last for more than a day, at the speed we drink it.  I have a plan for the water. 

Finally, we stop for the night.  I state to the others, that we will have water soon.  With complete mastery, I focus on the sorcery energy and summon a force in the air.  I bend it to make a dish, the size of a small table and set it in place.  I test it to make sure it stays without concentration.   Next, I call to the Light, to bring water, to rain from my hands, so that the drips are caught in the dish and suspend over the dry sand.  Quickly, the dish fills.  When full, I reach down into the water, cup it and splash it on my face, and drink.  It is very refreshing, pure, and clean.  I mention to the others to fill their water bags.  Then they can wash the grime of travel away.

With most of the water gone and the dish still floating over the sand, the setting sun's beam catches in the water and I see the colors of the rainbow.  For food, dried meat, dried fish, and dried stuff.  Yuck!  If this place is not dry enough.

Then night comes quickly.  An array of stars shine in the night, much more than the night sky of Aden.  My old teacher taught me the names for groups of the stars, and with his tools he recorded numbers and compared to numbers from previous days.  To me, it is magic, magic that I could not learn.

The others begin resting, while Trevor and I prepare for the first watch.  The first day finishes with no trouble.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: D&D 5th Edition (basic rules)

Okay, so like many (many) avid gamers I downloaded the new basic rules for Dungeons & Dragons this Thursday and began reading.  My overall impression is that they took 3rd Edition, added some good ideas from 4th Edition, and then simplified some things to keep it "basic" as a nod to the very early editions.  If you're a 3E or Pathfinder fan you'll probably like it; it's an interesting new take on those rules.  If you're a 4E fan you'll be pleased to see the 4E ideas they included, but it does not have the powers-based classes of 4E.  And if you're an early editions/OSR fan you probably won't like it because it's clearly 3E based.  The two biggest changes from 3E/Pathfinder are the way spells are prepared and cast, and the addition of resting (the Short Rest and Long Rest).

The first thing I noticed is that the Basic Attack Bonus of 3E is gone and replaced with a generic Proficiency Bonus.  This is added not only to attack rolls but most other rolls.  It's simple and reminds me a bit of the way 4E adds to skill rolls based on character level.

For abilities they include most of the popular methods for generating ability scores (die rolls, arrays, and point-buy).  I was pleased to see that with point-buy you are limited to a max of 15 and a minimum of 8 in any one ability.  However, any racial bonuses are added on top on this so you can start with a final score higher than 15.  But at least the 8 minimum prevents the notorious "dump stat" phenomena.    Also the overall maximum score for any stat is 20, ever.  I'm glad to see that they imposed limits to avoid the sort of ridiculous min-maxing I abhor.

Yes, they're explicitly including the tiers from 4E.  I never really got to play a proper campaign with 4E but the idea of tiers always appealed to me as a design approach as a DM.

The basic rules have only the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard.  This is clearly a nod to the OSR crowd but there are mentions of other classes in here.  You can be sure that we will eventually see all our old favorites.  D&D is a class-based game and I like players to have plenty of options.  The rules include Quick Build notes for each class, which will be particularly handy for beginning players.  Starting skills are limited to picking two out of about a half-dozen.  There are less skills overall than in 3E, which is fine with me, and it looks like the characters will have fewer overall than in 3E.  Each class has equipment you just pick from several choices.  This is great for new players but also avoids the usual agonizing over exactly what to buy.

I won't go into all four classes in detail here but I did read the new cleric carefully because that's my basic go-to class.  Here are some quick notes:
  • Clerics only get three cantrips to start, but they don't need preparation and are not expended when cast
  • Spellcasting is an interesting modification on the 3E "prep and slot" approach.  Clerics still prepare spells, however they prepare a number of spells equal to their level plus their Wisdom modifier.  These can be of any level out of those known by the cleric and need not correspond to the number of casting slots at each level.  However, the cleric is limited by the number of slots as to how many spells of a particular level can be cast before a Long Rest is needed.  So you could prepare four different 2nd level spells even if you only have two 2nd level slots.  Then you can flexibly select from that "pool" of prepared spells for your two castings for the day.  Also, you can use a higher-level slot to cast a lower-level spell--which is a well overdue change.
  • Domains are still here, but are handled a bit differently.  The cleric must pick just one of their deity's domains and stick with it.  Domain spells do not need to be prepared and don't count against your number of daily spell-slot prepared spells.  You only get domain spells at 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th class levels but you get two spells at each of those levels.  Domains also include a set of abilities which are rather like level abilities.  Only one domain (Life) is included in the basic rules.  I like that the domains are strengthened as a feature of the cleric.  Clerics in older editions were almost identical except for differing slightly in "evil" or "good" versions.
  • Channel Divinity replaces Turn Undead and is simpler to use (unlike the versions where you needed die rolls and a chart to figure out the effects).  Channel Divinity can also be used to power a domain effect.  You start with one per day (well, once before a Long Rest) but eventually get to use it three times per day.
  • No 3E style spontaneous casting of heal spells. This was probably done away with because characters get a lot of self-healing after short and long rests (see below).

These are handy sets of tables for quickly and easily generating some personality and background for characters.  As a DM I see these as handy for quickly fleshing out an NPC whom the players have suddenly decided they want to start interacting with a lot.  Also they would be great for those players who really can't be bothered to do character backgrounds.

All characters get a roll on this d100 table.  It provides one quirky item.  Looking down the list I can see as a DM how they all can make for interesting plot hooks later on.

Feats are still in the new D&D, but they are not detailed in the basic rules.  They are considered optional and are laid out in the Player's Guide.

Saving Throws
The 3E approach of WIL/REF/FORT is out (as is the charts in the older editions) and instead we're back to ability based saves.  You roll your die and add the modifier from the appropriate ability, your Proficiency Bonuse from your class level, and possibly a class bonus.  I rather like this because it engages all six abilities instead of just the three in 3E and it's simpler.

5E adds in the Long Rest and Short Rest concepts, borrowing from 4E.  With a Short Rest you can roll your class' hit die for "rest heals", up to a maximum number of dice equal to your current maximum.  So if you are level 5 and have d8 as your hit dies, you have five d8s you can roll as healing dice after each Short Rest.  You may spend one or all after one rest.  You recover the "spent" dice after a Long Rest.  Also, wizards can regain a few lower level spells after a Short Rest.  With the Long Rest a character recovers all (yes, "all") lost HP.  Actually, the Short Rest and Long Rest are probably the two biggest changes from 3E/Pathfinder.

In 5E death comes at a number of negative hit points equal to your maximum hit points.  Thus if a character has 20 HP, they die when they reach -20 HP--but there is also a death save which must be passed if the character is not stabilized promptly.

So overall I like the new D&D rules.  I would be perfectly happy to play them--and I've been talking with my friend Kaiser about doing a playtest session in the near future.  Am I planning to buy it?  Hmm, well I'm heavily invested in Pathfinder (like most of my group) and thus reluctant to chuck it all and start over with something else--particularly if that something else would require a similar monetary investment.  I may buy the Player's Handbook to see what they've done with the various classes.  There are a lot of ideas I like in here.  I definitely want to play a character for at least five levels to see how all the new changes affect play.