Monday, December 4, 2023

Simple Improvements - Power to the Archer

I like archer characters. Over the weekend, I had a chance to binge-watch a couple of episodes of Hawkeye and a few of The Arrow. Both shows are obviously based on bow combat. 

In virtually all RPGs, archers are limited to how many arrows they have. Once the quiver is empty, they aren't an archer anymore. They lose the deadly ability to strike at a distance. 

I wrote about making fighting men and spell casters more powerful without adding die rolls or wildly different mechanics. Archers can be similarly empowered. 

Looking at the first Avengers movie, Hawkeye doesn't miss so much as not hit his target. 

Loki is a trickster and should have seen this coming. Now let's look at Hawkeye missing a target. 

This time Hawkeye misses because something got in his way. He didn't see it coming and lost an arrow because of it. His second shot is also a miss because Quicksilver threw him down and the arrow was knocked out of reach. Then there is a third attempt, the one I want to simulate. Quicksilver simply disappears, leaving Hawkeye with no target. Technically, that is his third miss. 

This last miss is easy to simulate. When a shooter ATTEMPTS a shot, sometimes the target moves in such a way that the archer can't follow. In this case, the miss means the archer never loosed an arrow. This is actually a very powerful thing for someone with a bow. In not loosing the arrow, they keep it for later. Since running out of arrows will put the archer out of action, not losing an arrow in every round of combat is powerful. 

(Good lord, my spell checker hates the difference between loosing and losing.) 

A DM could declare that on certain missed rolls the archer has released the arrow and on others, they retained the arrow and didn't shoot. Since 1 is odd, I would rule that every odd-number missed attack means the archer really did let the arrow fly and it's gone. On every even-numbered missed attack, they didn't let it go. They kept it. 

I have a simple rule for collecting arrows after combat. If the characters have fled the battle, they lost all of the arrows they shot. If they keep the battlefield, then they can look for them. Even better, if the enemy was shooting, they could possibly recover those, too. 

If a player shoots x number of arrows, I select a die with fewer sides than the arrows fired, hopefully within one. If an opponent was also using arrows, I have PC archer roll a second of the same die. They may end up with more arrows than they started. This is in addition to whatever is taken as treasure. 

You can also amuse yourself with the possibility that two archers keep missing each other until each has to resort to picking up the arrow just fired at them. This is more likely to happen with spears and javelins, which is why the Romans used pilums. Pilums have a soft tip that bends to prevent it from being thrown back. It seems to be a 400 BC solution to a much older problem.  

Let me know what you think in the comments. 

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Disappointment = Improvements, Star Frontiers Edition


Star Frontiers was one of my favorite non-D&D games. While my friends loved Traveller. I was all in on Star Frontiers. Traveller and SF are two completely different games in the sci-fi genre. In my opinion, Traveller is a pure RPG while Star Frontiers incorporates role-play into a board game. It is my personal belief, being a pure RPG, Traveller is unified and therefore more balanced. The setting also doesn't hurt. However, I rarely play it. 

Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn and Knight Hawks are both excellent games, but they are completely different games. Trying to integrate player characters into a fleet battle-type game is glitchy, to say the least. One of the biggest disappointments is summed up in this chart from Knight Hawks:

Holy hell, you need to max out an Alpha Dawn character to be able to fly a spaceship at minimum competency. A level 6 technician should be able to build a whole spaceship with little trouble, why would you need this level of skill to operate a spaceship? 

Han Solo's ability to fix stuff is putting a blaster shot into it. I can't picture Maverick fueling his plane, he can't even put on fireproof gloves. Ok, Data could assemble pretty much anything, but he is a robot made of McGuffin but I can't imagine Sulu doing the same.  

The second chart is even more annoying. 

It perpetuates military skills are the best way to advance quickly. If you look at the chart from Alpha Dawn, this at least continues the trope started in the first book. 

I had a strong desire to fix this back in the 80s in a simplistic fashion. Everyone got 3 skills to start, anyone could take spaceship skills from the get-go and I just accepted that spaceship skills were harder to level up in. 

I did preserve the first chart of requirements as a social aspect of being a spacer. These were the minimum skills necessary to get a professional job on a ship. Rather amusingly, my players figured out exactly what I getting at and would role-play padding their resume to land jobs. 

Recently, I decided to engage in a bit of confirmation bias and checked to see if anyone else saw this as a problem. A lot of people did see this as a problem at the time and today, and many of them even used this very technique to fix it. 

Since I was engaging in confirmation bias and not fact-finding, I totally discounted people who had other modifications to these tables as being a less common option. I reserve the right to be wrong.  

Let me know in the comments. 

Interestingly, I did see many people playing the game straight. While I absolutely hate this solution it is firmly based in reality. Historically, astronauts were (and still are) brilliant people and a vanishingly small portion of the general population. It does make sense in that respect. I just don't like it for space opera. There is a case for leaving it alone but I wanted to have spaceships as an option from the get-go. 

I blame this attitude of mine on some players' odd reactions to skills in a given era. Some players will opt to claim that their character can't swim, can't ride a horse, or drive a car in eras where most people can. They see that skill on a chart and not wanting to waste skill points don't select it. Then they assume that not ticking a box means zero ability. Most people who can't swim merely can't swim well. Most people who "can't" drive a car can totally explain the operation of a vehicle and merely lack the will to do so. This is just being wise to one's own limitations, not a lack of understanding or slight ability. 

I have a whole post on silly things I won't let players do. That is D&D-themed, but you can read it anyway. 

Speaking of posts, you can expect to see more posts about Star Frontiers soon. I want to have a campaign going shortly. 

Simple Improvements - Magic Spells

A lot of times magic use feels like a machine gun in a knife fight. And then there are days where it doesn't work out like that. 

I have one simple improvement for magic users of all stripes that doesn't involve dice throws. It is a clarification of my house rules. 

First - To loose and/or lose a spell it has to be prepared. This is usually part of the rules of the game. One word to improve this rule is "completely", as in "completely prepared". 

Adding this one word completely changes the dynamic of spellcasting. 

Let's say a wizard or cleric selected a complex spell. They start to prep it then they are hit in the face. "Completely prepared" switches the result from "I lost a spell" to "I have to start over". They weren't done prepping. That seems kind of fair as the player and the character pays a cost in terms of frustration but doesn't actually lose anything else. 

They need a better plan, but they can use that spell later. 

The next modification to spell casting for simplification is: to allow the character to pull back unused spells. I can't tell you how many times I have had a player prep a fireball in the last round of combat and simply lose it. It seems reasonable to me that a player should be able to undo that action if nothing else is happening. Perhaps it takes the same amount of time to put the spell away as it does to prep it. Seems reasonable to me.  

A third simplification is what I call "spell coast". On Monday, a cleric prays for three spells  - Light, Purify Food and Water, and Bless. He has only one opportunity to cast the Purify Food and Water spell on Monday. On Tuesday, decides to replace that one spell with Cure Light Wounds. Being a small-town adventure, nothing happens until Sunday night. If the cleric is happy with his spell choices, he doesn't have to study every day. He coasts along with the 2 spells he prayed for on Monday and third, he prayed for on Tuesday. 

The less time the players spend memorizing spells, the better. I had a diabolical DM that would take people's memorized spells away the moment they lost consciousness. 

All of these things together make spell casters more powerful while also providing more role-play opportunities.  

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Random Encounters/Making Memories

Tonight, Jen and Catherine are at a Stevie Nicks concert leaving me and Nathan to fend for ourselves for dinner.  Nate and I picked a local favorite and got to talking... about D&D. 

This only sometimes happens. He plays e5 while I am into AD&D e1 or OSE. They seem wildly different, to me anyway. But tonight proved that wrong. 

Halfway through dinner, Nathan realized he planned a D&D session with his friends. He looked rather glum about it. I said I was envious because I have very little time to game. 

The problem was he didn't know what to do for tonight's session. I asked him about the past sessions and he filled me on the problems first. They are 4 sessions into this campaign and they skipped a planned Session 0. Nathan was forced to cob together a very basic idea into a full-fledged campaign due to a lack of planning. 

Here is the gist of that idea: The players have found a cursed town. There are a couple of levels to the curse. A dragon is rampaging around the edge of town, but cannot enter due to a spell cast by a witch. The witch stole the dragon's eggs and placed them around the perimeter of the town to protect the town from a threat, a non-dragon threat. The hag was killed by the dragon mid-cast, so the spell is partially broken.  

Currently, the spell is supposed to protect the town from a threat. Thus far, this averted threat is limited to the rampaging dragon. The spell should be fixed on and powered by the maturing dragon eggs, but unfortunately, it is wavering. When a person touches the edge of the spell, say by entering or leaving the town, their memory becomes corrupted. The corruption is like amnesia, people forget personal facts but don't lose skills or abilities usually. 

Two characters have already been corrupted and lost the knowledge of a spell and resources. The mage forget the spell is in their spell books and are surprised every time they see it. The other character has forgotten he is rich. This is being played for laughs. 

Nathan, dressed to impress.

That's it. Nathan didn't define the threat to the town and threw the characters right in the middle of the mess without a plan to get them out. Worse, the players are fighting a bone construct for one of the eggs. Nathan has no idea why he introduced this combat. The players are hell-bent on destroying the egg for unknown reasons. The last session ended in the middle of that battle. 

Memory... funny thing that is. 

I parsed out the whole situation, problems and all. 

Here is what we came up with as a solution. The hag, a witch, was the town shaman. Unfortunately, she was fated to die young but didn't know when. As the appointed day came close, she bargained with the dragon for its eggs. She would cast a spell on the eggs, to protect the town from bad weather and disease in her absence while also protecting the eggs as they matured. People who found the eggs would be afflicted with memory loss about the eggs and would not harm or steal them.  

Problem one is solved, we know why stuff is happening. That's important. 

Next, time to tackle some other issues. Nathan starts every session with a synopsis of what happened in the last session. He simply reads from a notebook. Tonight, he decided that will change. Instead, he will hand out notes to all of the players. Once they have the notes, he will absentmindedly flip through his notebook as if looking for the notes he just handed out. 

Queue the laughs. He'll ask someone to read the synopsis for him.

Oddly, there will be no mention of the combat with the bone construct. Instead, the players will find themselves in an ancient and desecrated graveyard at the edge of town. It says that right there in the game notes. The graves have been pillaged for something. In the dark, a shambling bone creature will disrupt their investigations. The bone construct was made by a previous shaman with the intent to protect the town in their absence. As long as the party doesn't attack, it will not attack them. It needs them alive to protect the town. 

It seems all of the players are suffering from memory loss. They didn't fight a bone construct, they are about to fight a bone construct. Maybe. When they return to the town proper, fight or not, they will find some of the NPCs have changed. These will be subtle changes, maybe someone needed to step out for a while and a friend took over. 

Now for the real fun. One of the PCs wears a wedding band. The same player inquired about having it turned into a ring of wishes in the prior sessions. This was an off-handed comment, a part of their character background. They would wish their spouse back to life if they could. Obviously, they recently saw the Dungeons and Dragons movie. 

A week from now, Nathan will be armed with a letter from a sage explaining how exceedingly rare rings of wishes are and that it would be virtually impossible for this particular ring to be one of wishes. Of course, no player character asked a sage about this. But here is a letter like they did. 

How did that happen? Who paid for it? It appears to be the guy who can't remember he is rich. 

The path is now clear, the party needs to become the protector of the town and eggs while the spell casters try to correct the malfunctioning spell or end the spell by finding another shaman. It would be helpful not to be eaten by the dragon while doing this, but it's starting to look like one of the PCs or NPCs will become a dragon snack. 

That's fine by Nathan. Not only is he counting on it, he has a friend scheduled to show up with a brand-new character, and prepped and practiced to act as if he has been there since the beginning. 

It's amazing how a chance dinner-time meal can turn into a campaign session. 

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Setting, Theme, and Narrative

Last week, I was so hopeful. I would get myself back on track by returning to reviews until I was back on a regular posting schedule. Thursday morning, that goal was evaporating as my son got sick and by Friday evening, I had it too. 

It's been 147 days of Sudafed haze and sinus hell since Friday night. It's one of those sucky things you can't shake off. That's a shame because I wanted to post about something I received in the mail: 

Dragonlance is one of my favorite settings, my most hated modules, and THE THING that made me think about game design. It is a great setting. I can't wait to review these books and get into the Setting, Theme, and Narrative.