On the Origin of Races

February 23, 2017

This is a…big question. Namely, what role do races play in D&D and how do we do them right? This is especially complicated by the fact that “race” doesn’t mean just heritage in D&D, it’s historically also meant cultural history. As an example, an Orc might have Darkvision in D&D thanks to being born an Orc, but an Elf isn’t genetically or magically gifted with proficiency with Longswords and Long Bows. That’s training. With the Dwarf and Halfling benefits to fighting giants, that was explicitly spelled out – children of those communities gain training in fighting giants.

Since you can’t call a product of training “racial traits”, since there’s no factor of birth there, I think we’ve got to split race in half – Heritage, the people you are born to, and Past, the culture you were raised in. Combined, these are, to borrow from Dragon Age, a character’s Origin. They tell us what kind of Hero the character can become, or at least where they’re coming from.

This also makes it easier to expand races dramatically since we’ve got two small things that combine into a huge number of potential “races”. Now, how do we balance them?

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Yesterday we went over the kind of outline for what I’m thinking the new skill system will look like. Today we’re going to look at it comparing two wildly disparate applications of it in a game setting; a social and legal maneuvering scene and the construction of a sturdy axe.

Our two example characters will be Kirann Wildstalker who is trying to spring his friend from an unjust arrest and Gerta Stromdottar forging an axe for her daughter to take on her first adventure. Kirann is going to be at a lower level, someone relatively new to their adventuring career but has had a few dungeons and a few major scrapes fall beneath his bow. Gerta, on the other hand, has long since retired. She raised her daughters, she taught them how to fight, and now one of them is finally leaving their home on the windswept coasts to make her own name. Both of these characters have simple goals; Kirann is trying to overturn a single legal obstacle and Gerta’s making an item. These same systems can be scaled up to much more complex problems, though, and hopefully can have games built on them by themselves.

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So, we’ve done some of the ground work for our themeing. We’ve got our classes down, we’ve got a basic idea for our construction, and we know what “D&D” is. So, how does the game work? 

The environment that D&D takes place in, a tabletop RPG with a focus on storytelling and tactical combat, there are three levels of resolution. Three tiers of granularity in how much we want to simulate the environment. Those three levels are the most simple kind of resolution (like a “strength check” for something coming up but not having a dedicated rule system), the skill resolution (like a “Diplomacy check” for something that has a rules system attached to it but it’s not very granular), and the Combat Resolution System. There’s a huge, wide gulf between type 2 and 3, while there’s barely any difference between type 1 and 2. I feel like we can do better than this.

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We’ve examined those who use their Strength to Fight. We’ve looked at those who use their Dexterity for Rogueish ends. We’ve seen what the Brawlers can deal with because of their powerful Constitutions. We’ve glanced into the magical worlds driven by the Arcanist’s Intelligence and harnessed by the Acolyte’s Wisdom.

But who tells the stories that we know these by? Who rallies the armies of the world and who keeps the team together? When you read about heroes who don’t fit into neat containers, heroes who seem to draw many skills from many different places, they all started out somewhere. They were, at first, simple apprentices to someone. A budding Fighter, Rogue, Arcanist, Brawler, or Acolyte. When they reached the point where they could dedicate themselves fully to their skills, though, their talents pulled them elsewhere. They formed their abilities based on the mystical pull they have with their persona, the strength and flexibility they have threaded through their being.

They’re now Journeymen, walking the world and learning what they can to do what they can.

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The Music of the Spheres

January 13, 2017

So, Divine magic.

That’s a…complicated bag of snakes. Kettle of worms. Can of hammers. Traditionally, for some reason, Divine magic was basically Arcane magic with the serial numbers filed off and some weird aftermarket spells like “Cure Wounds” and “Slow Poison”. So either wildly useful or strangely useless.

We’re gonna change it. Partly by sticking to the hard spell idea, but really digging into the thematic part of it. Instead, Spheres or Domains are going to be the  most important thing to a Divine caster, and will inform how they act, how they cast, and how they see the world. Being a Divine caster should have some kind of obligation, since their devotion is what keeps their magic alive.

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Man, it’s taking me a week to get to this. Arcane is such a mess, thematically and mechanically, in D&D and I’ve been really unsure about how to go about this. What I’m looking for, though, is player agency. Player choice. This is what I’ve come up with.

We’re ditching spells for Arcane. Spells are clunky, weird, and poorly costed. There are some spells that are just obnoxiously powerful for their level, other spells that are totally worthless until you have extra caster levels to cast them with, and yet others that should never be used at all. This is exacerbated in tabletop where “creative” uses of spells have gone on to break the game. The comments here can help explain why the so-called Quadratic Wizard is a problem. On top of that, many Wizard players may come away with a feeling that they’re kind of pidgenholed into a certain kind of play style – even if they’re not playing 4th Edition. The spells are poorly written, which is the biggest problem for me.

So we’ve got to replace the most archaic and traditional D&Dism ever. With something that gives players more agency, which D&D players famously hate. Yay!

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A samurai plucks arrows from her quiver and looses them toward an enemy before her, peppering the vicious ogre before dropping from her horse, drawing her sword, and moving in for the kill.

Fighting for his life, the gladiator bashes the first swarming goblin with his shield then throws the shield at the next. His sword cleaves a third goblin as he picks up one of their crude spears and uses it to old the mass back as he figures out his next move.

Plumes of smoke erupt from the guns of the small band of musketeers, picking off the flanks of the advancing force of armored knights. They keep in formation, shooting and falling back, until finally the knights number less than they and their swords leap into their hands for the final struggle.

All of these are fighters. Each and every one of them. They all stem from a single, pure ideal. A fantasy of the warrior who is an expert in all forms of warfare and combat. In Dungeons and Dragons, we call that warrior The Fighter.

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