Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hacking Old School Hack (Is Nothing Sacred?!)

Okay, so I've mentioned before that I really love the Old School Hack rules by Kirin Robinson.  But naturally I have the urge to tinker and fit it to my style of gaming.  I've been mulling over some ideas and was nudged into action by, of all things, the new Egyptian-themed adventure path for Pathfinder.

One of the things I want to change in Old School Hack is class-as-race.  It is a concept true to the early editions of D&D and valid enough as a game design approach.  But I find it too restrictive for player choice.  I wanted to separate race and class as in 3rd and 4th edition D&D.  I also wanted to recast the classification of talents as Constant, Focus, Arena, and Rested.  These four are clearly a neat borrowing from 4th edition but I was never comfortable with the "arena" concept.

Talent Classifications:

  • Constant: always available; can be used every round in combat
  • Focus: requires a focus action starting early in round and occurring later in round if not interrupted (these may also be additionally classed as Encounter or Rested)
  • Encounter: Once successfully used in an action scene, these talents can’t be used again until after a short rest (15~30 minutes) [or spend 1 AP in any subsequent round to recharge it].
  • Rested: These talents can only be used once a day, or at least until you get a meal and some decent rest (usually 8 hours) [or spend 2 AP when not in an action scene to recharge it].


Each character gets a race as well as a class.  Characters thus start the game with one talent from their class and one from their race.  Racial talents may each only be taken once and none may be taken as cross-race talents--unless the DM allows half-races, such as half-elves.  This particular selection of races includes several suitable for an Egyptian-themed game (or you can rename them and no one will be the wiser).

  • Adaptable/rested: arise rested with one free AP to spend [Special: since humans only have this one talent, they may take it up to three times]

  • Elvish Weapons/constant: +1 to hit with longbows or longswords
  • Feykind/constant: +2 to attribute checks to influence any fey creatures
  • Eldritch/encounter: +2 to saves against arcane magic

  • Dwarvish Weapons/constant: +1 to hit with axes, hammers, or crossbows
  • Heft/constant: can carry two extra heavy things, no problem
  • Iron Guts/encounter: +2 to Brawn-based saves against poison, disease, fatigue, etc.

Ubasti (cat people)
  • Nine Lives/rested: avoid loss of one wound by making a Daring save
  • Spirit Warding/focus: attempt to ward off a spirit with innate spirituality via an opposed Commitment check
  • Cat Landing/constant: make a Daring save with +2 to land safely from tripping, falling, jumping, or being thrown

Hathi (cow people)
  • Strong Like Ox/constant: carry one extra heavy thing and +1 to Brawn checks involving applications of muscle
  • Song & Dance/focus: with a short warm-up, entertain all creatures in same arena with a short musical performance; removes fear, sadness, grief, panic, and other negative emotions
  • Headbutt/focus: paw the ground, then bash headlong into target for +2 on Brawn check to break object or stun a creature

Sebeki (crocodile people)
  • Chomp/constant: those pearly white fangs aren't just for looking good; chomp on your enemies with a 1-wound/2d10 attack
  • Power Tail/constant: the broad sebeki tail makes for strong swimmers; swim and dash at the same rates as walking and running on land
  • Basking/rested: you may rest in the sun, preferably on a warm surface, and become rested in half the normal time

Anubi (jackal people)
  • Perky Ears/constant: Anubi have keen ears; +2 to Awareness checks using hearing
  • Bloodhound/constant: Anubi have keen noses; +2 to Awareness checks using scent
  • Friend of the Dead/rested: +2 to Charm or Cunning checks when influencing any undead

Sethi (cobra people)
  • Venom Fangs/rested: your fangs do little damage, but the venom they inject does 1 wound (victim gets a Brawn save)
  • Squamous/constant: scaly hides are tough; +1 to armor class
  • Speak With Forked Tongue/constant: you can communicate with any scaly creature

Thouti (baboon people)
  • Mageblood/focus: you have an innate connection with the arcane; may make an Awareness check to detect the presence of magic or gain +2 to resist magical effects
  • Scribe/constant: the Thouti are surprisingly scholarly; you can read and write two extra languages
  • Blue Buttocks/focus: square off and display your outrageously blue baboon buttocks; +2 to Daring checks to annoy, distract, shock, confuse, or otherwise psychologically discomfit any or all in the same arena
Next time I'll post my new 3E/4E/Pathfinder style classes.  So far I've got the Fighter, Thief, Cleric, Wizard, Paladin, Ranger, Barbarian, Dancer (Dervish or Houri), and Druid.  I'm also thinking about the Oracle, Summoner, and Alchemist.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review: Mistwyck and Woodmuir maps by Owlbear Maps

Okay, so I really like isometric view maps.  It is a much more natural representation which enables you to immediately grasp the layout of a place.  Top-down or plan style maps usually take a little bit of study to make sure one fully understands all the details.  There aren't a lot of isometric maps available out there but I just bought the Mistwyck and Woodmuir isometric map pdfs from Owlbear Maps off Drivethrurpg.

Mystwick (detail)

Both are simple town maps, Mystwick being a tiny village and Woodmuir a larger settlement with a log palisade around it.  The art style reminds me of the Asterix comic books, which I particularly like.  Both maps are in black and white, which is fine, although at first glance you get the impression that they are winter scenes.  The pdfs have an overview of the entire map, then pages with sections to print out and put together; the larger sections come in versions with and without a light blue isometric grid.  There is also a legend for each map with a bit of info on selected locations.

The reason I bought these two maps is as starting locations for games.  A while back I came up with the idea of having all the characters be from the same village and each player gets to pick the building in the town where the character lives.  It provides a fun bit of engagement right at the start.  Both these maps will work great for small starting towns for my games.

Bottom Line: I think both maps are great!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: The Half-Dead City

Okay, so as I mentioned in an earlier post I recently re-subscribed to Paizo's Pathfinder Adventure Path because the new one is set in the not-Egypt land of Osirion.  I just finished reading the first installment of the Mummy's Mask path, The Half-Dead City, this evening.  Overall, I like it a lot.  The locations are plenty Egypt-y enough to make me happy plus there are great fantasy RPG touches.

The adventure is almost all dungeon crawls with a town to recover in and wander about.  There are the expected bestiary with some new monsters and treasury with some new magic items, all with the Egyptian theme.  There is a really nice section on the setting, the city of Wati, including a map and plenty of location descriptions.  The book also has the serialized fiction section typical of Paizo's adventure paths; the story was okay, but very heavy on combat details.  However it was set in one of the inns of Wati and included a map and description of the inn for use in play.

There were only two things which I wasn't happy about.  One is the basic premise of the adventure, which posits that the temple of the goddess of the afterlife is authorizing people to tomb-raid the large necropolis at Wati.  Teams are given locations by lottery to investigate--provided they do not directly disturb any bodies.  That just doesn't sit quite right with me but most players would probably be fine with it.  The other is that there is a rival team of NPCs with whom they will tangle.  On the one hand, most groups of NPCs in these adventures are not really tough enough to put up much of a fight if it comes to that.  On the other hand each one gets an extensive write-up which becomes a total waste of page space in the book if the PCs kill them off.

Bottom Line: I like it and am looking forward to the next installment.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Diablo III: Some Thoughts

Okay, so I resisted buying Diablo III for quite a long time.  I loved the first two Diablos and played them to death--and was afraid that if I bought III then I would again spend huge amounts of time playing it.  About 15 years ago I used to play computer games a lot, particularly ones from Blizzard.  But I began to realize that I was spending far too much time on them.  (I was also spending too much time painting miniatures, but that's another story.)  So I cut way back on PC gaming and gave up on miniatures.  And I found that it led to a huge improvement in my lifestyle.

But I loved the first two Diablo games so much that I finally caved in and decided to give it a try, trusting that I had mastered my semi-addiction.  Well, I've played up to level 30 with the wizard/sorceress (my favorite class) and thought I'd share some of my impressions.

- 3D: This is a "modern" 3D game, no 2D sprites here.  It doesn't do much for the characters or monsters, because the game still uses the classic fixed, zoomed-out isometric view.  Since you can't zoom in, rotate, or change the viewpoint in any way the 3D is sort of wasted.  But it hugely improves the environments.  They have a lot more atmosphere now.

- Monsters: Well, as I just mentioned, making them 3D didn't add much since they are still tiny little things on the fixed-view screen.  But they do still have the classic Diablo feel that I always enjoyed.  Likewise for the player-characters, NPCs, and spell effects.

- Challenge: I started on the normal setting and it was very, very easy.  I moved it up to Hard and it's more challenging, but still pretty easy.  Also, treasure drops are insanely over the top.  In the earlier editions you were lucky to get one or two epic type items--ever.  In this game I've already found about half a dozen and I've only played to level 30 with one character.  And most of the loot is tailored for your character, which also makes it less of a challenge.  You absolutely don't need to work for loot--it's really handed to you on a silver platter.  Even rings and trinkets are easily bought from one of the vendors in town as you go along.  Very disappointing.

- Skills: One of the fun things with any RPG is crafting/building your character over time.  In Diablo II each class had three skill trees, allowing you to specialize in one or spread your points around.  And the skill trees were laid out on the screen with detailed tooltips so you could look and plan ahead.  Blizzard later used that triple-tree system for their World of Warcraft game.  But in Diablo III, there is no tree to look and plan ahead on.  And the skills don't give you much information on what happens if you take a particular skill or add a rune to one.  With the sorceress I have four left-mouse attacks--but there's no information on the skill screen to tell me which one does more damage.  So, I don't like the new skill system at all.

- Crafting: there is apparently a more complex crafting system in this game but I have no idea what it is.  Mind you, I hate games where you have to go out and do extensive research elsewhere to figure out what the heck is going on in-game.  so I have loads of gems and materials filling up my stash chest but no idea what to do with them.  Rather obnoxious.

- Health Orbs: when you kill a monster a red health orb may drop which heals you if you run into it.  I don't really enjoy having these because the rest of the game has a serious look to it--but then suddenly there are these glowing red balloons floating around.  In the last game you always had to use and manage your potions bar for health and mana, but they've thrown that out.  Now there are health potions, but no mana potions.  Mana now comes back faster and health potions have a significant cool-down.  I suppose the orbs are part of this redesign, but I just don't like them.  But I am glad they got rid of what was basically the Big Belt o' Potions Mini-Game where you needed to constantly stock and re-arrange the four columns of potions in your belt for rapid quaffing.

- Classes: First off I'm glad that all the classes are now available in male and female versions.  I like having the extra options with characters.  You can't customize the characters beyond that, but since they are tiny figures in the center of the screen in-game it doesn't much.  But now, when you log in and out there is an up-close, rotatable view of your character with current equipment on.  I'm glad they added that new view.

- Story: So far it's not very inspiring, but then I'm still in the first Act.  It's a total railroad but this isn't a tabletop RPG, it's a tactical combat RPG.

- Overall: Slightly disappointed, but still hopeful.